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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Apes Saga Evolves."
5 stars

When most people set out in the middle of the summer of 2011 to plunk themselves down at the local multiplex to see a new "Planet of the Apes" movie, it is doubtful that many of them went with the expectations that they were going to be seeing anything good. For most observers, it seemed like a desperate attempt on the part of Fox to squeeze a few more bucks out of a property that they mined to fabulous success with the groundbreaking 1968 original, ran into the ground through a series of increasingly inferior sequels, a shabby, short-lived TV show and Tim Burton's 2001 "reimagining" that resulted in his weakest movie to date (at that point, at least). And yet, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" proved to be that rarest of birds--a big-budget blockbuster that turned out to be a happy surprise thanks to a smart and well-crafted screenplay that deftly combined genuine wit, breathtaking action and a provocative storyline that had somehow made it through the machine without being dumbed down in an attempt to make it more palatable for the people using the film as an excuse to sell fast food and cheap plastic crap. For once, critics and audiences agreed and the film went on the received rave reviews that suggested it was the best "Apes" movie to date (or at least since the original) and was also a smash hit at the box office as well.

Now comes "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," a film that finds itself in the equally difficult position of having to somehow satisfy a moviegoing public that genuinely loved its predecessor, if only because of the way in which it completely exceeded their expectations. Although the anticipation means that it will almost certainly be a success from a commercial standpoint, even a slight drop in the quality has the possibility to erase all the goodwill that "Rise" managed to acquire. Astonishingly, it not only manages to live up to its lofty expectations, it manages to exceed them by giving audiences a deeper, darker and more fully realized vision that not only builds on what it had established the last time around but has figured out how to spin the material in new and unanticipated ways. As good as "Rise" was, "Dawn" is even better and proves beyond measure that a film's I.Q. does not have to drop into double digits as soon as the budget hits nine digits.

Ten years after the events of the first film, which culminated with the ape army formed by the super-intelligent Caesar (Andy Serkis) heading for the forests while the human population begins to suffer from the man-made "simian flu" that was unwittingly unleashed during the panic following the ape escape, Caesar and the others are living in harmony with one another as they build and develop a civilization, hunt other animals now running wild for food and idly wondering if the virus has eradicated mankind for good. That idle speculation is answered fairly quickly when a small party of human comes across their neck of the woods and one of them, the hot-headed Carver (Kirk Acevedo), wings one of the apes with his gun. However, the leader of the group, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), manages to defuse the situation and convinces Caesar to let them go unharmed. The apes follow them back to their stronghold, a now run-down San Francisco filled with survivors of the plague led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), and Caesar proclaims that while he doesn't want war, that is what will happen if humans set foot in their area again.

The only hitch is that the ape area contains an old hydroelectric dam that represents what may be the last chance for the humans to restore power and begin to rebuild before all is lost. To that end, Malcolm decides to lead a small party, including girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell), son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the numbnuts Carver, who is the only person who knows the lay of the dam, in an attempt to reason with Caesar so that they can try to get the dam started while Dreyfus and a group of others begin loading up at the armory for a full-scale attack if Malcolm's more peaceable efforts fail. Seeing it as the best way to avoid a bloody conflict that would cause the loss of lives on both sides, Caesar agrees to let them in and despite Carver's apparent determination to screw things up at every turn, there is a certain rapprochement between the two species that is further solidified when Ellie helps Caesar's ailing wife and Alexander bonds with the wise Maurice () over old graphic novels. However, this detente does not sit well with Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar's hotheaded right-hand ape, and when his own reconnaissance mission reveals the activity at the armory, he concocts a diabolical plan that, with the unwitting help of Caesar's own son, will allow him to seize control of the apes and destroy the humans for good.

Although they would devolve into a pop-culture joke over the years, driven in no small part by the original film's basic premise of intelligent talking apes, the then-shocking twist ending and Charlton Heston's endearingly hammy performance, the "Planet of the Apes" movies, at least early on, used their bizarre concept as a way to explore the sociological concerns of the day--civil rights, immigration, nuclear proliferation--in ways that most filmmakers of the time would not have dared to tackle in a more straightforward manner. (Few major films would have attempted to build to a climax involving a full-scale race riot and yet "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" not only did it, it did so in the context of a movie that, by that point, was being aimed largely at the youth audience.) "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" continues in that tradition and as a result proves itself to be the rare summer tentpole that is actually about something. The screenplay by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback tackles such hot button issues as gun control and the folly of being led to war under false pretenses and weaves them into the main narrative in interesting and surprisingly even-handed ways (though there is, to be sure, no question about the film's position on gun control). Consider the Dreyfus character--in another film along these lines, he might have been depicted as a one-dimensional blowhard of pure malevolence (especially as portrayed by an actor of Oldman's scenery-chewing tendencies) that would be impossible to take seriously. However, he is instead shown in a more fully fleshed-out manner that makes him an ultimately more interesting character--so much so, in fact, that it is a bit of a letdown when the film sort of lets him slide to the side in the final reels once the action begins in earnest.

And yet, while the film does have its more serious-minded aspects, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is also a pretty magnificent summer spectacle in its own right. Director Matt Reeves (whose previous efforts include the monster spectacular "Cloverfield" and the flawed-but-interesting vampire remake "Let Me In") has made a film that includes lots of highly impressive special effects and expertly staged set-pieces (with the opening hunt being an especially thrilling and sometimes terrifying sequence) but which still manages to demonstrate glimpses of actual personality. Visually, the film is pretty much a knockout from the convincing depiction of Mother Nature's reclamation of what was once taken in the name of progress to the ground-breaking CGI effects used to help bring the simian performers to life. Michael Giacchino contributes a nifty score that pays effective homage to Jerry Goldsmith's famous score for the original film. The performances are strong across the board with Andy Serkis once again taking top honors for his turn in the motion-control suit as Caesar--although I have not been convinced in the past about whether such acting turns should qualify for awards consideration, his work here finally has me sold in that regard. (It should also be noted that renowned supporting player Judy Greer turns up here as well, though I suspect that few will come up to her in the street and claim that they recognize her from her work here.)

The only problem with "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"--one which is all the worse because it is so unnecessary--is that it is being presented in 3-D. Granted, I have made no secret of my general distaste for the process but I am willing to concede when it has been utilized in an intelligent or exciting manner. (I might have even complimented its usage in the otherwise dreadful "Transformers 4" if it weren't for the fact that its impact was destroyed by Michael Bay's rapid-fire editing patterns, which reduced everything to visual hash.) Here, however, the 3-D has not been used to especially good effect--it is not particularly immersive and none of the individual moments are exceptionally memorable--and since a huge chunk of the movie takes place in semi-darkness, the reduced brightness caused by wearing the glasses means that there are long stretches in which it looks as though the film was shot during some kind of industrial fire. In other words, if you have an opportunity to see it in 2-D, you should do whatever you can to see it that way--not only will you save a few bucks, you will be able to more fully appreciate the film as a sight for sore eyes without having to deal with the sore eyes.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23885&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/10/14 11:47:42
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell better than the 2001 planet of the apes better story 4 stars
10/15/15 Soda so much depth, especially with the apes. love it. 5 stars
6/08/15 Bents Pretty good - Cain and Franco made 'Rise' the better installment 4 stars
11/26/14 Lsp4 Okay film 4 stars
7/21/14 FireWithFire Apes = Black Racists = Destruction = Detroit 1 stars
7/20/14 David Green Simply a brilliant movie 5 stars
7/17/14 adam warlock updates the old series nicely 4 stars
7/17/14 mr.mike See it but skip the 3-D. 4 stars
7/16/14 al This movie is only for dumb apes. 1 stars
7/16/14 Brittany Petros Average, i should had waited to rent it. 3 stars
7/14/14 laura pretty average-apes stand in for soldiers 3 stars
7/11/14 Bob Dog Boring - - ridiculously overrated. 1 stars
7/11/14 jervaise brooke hamster I want to bugger Miley Cyrus. 5 stars
7/10/14 Turner Terrible film. Another one of these really 1 stars
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  11-Jul-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 02-Dec-2014


  DVD: 02-Dec-2014

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