Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sequel to the 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which itself was a reboot of the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. “Rise of” was surprisingly well received and a sequel was approved fairly early on. As the film takes place some years after the first one, and after the ramifications of the ending, the entire human cast has been replaced. So if you were hoping for another James Franco centric film I guess you’re out of luck.

This flick was directed Matt Reeves who previously directed Cloverfield and Let Me In, two films that were met with positive reviews in the past. Still despite his talent one must wonder if “Dawn of” will be able to capture lightning in a bottle again now that it has a someone new at the helm.

Full review after the jump.

An ape empire built on freaking out and ripping people's balls/faces off
It’s been ten years since Caesar (Andy Serkis) led his group of intelligent apes out of San Francisco to the Muir Woods. Since then he and his ape clan have lived peacefully under his leadership. Meanwhile the same substance that evolved them, ALZ-112, has become a deadly virus for humans and in that time countless people have died and human civilization has collapsed. While Caesar suspects that the humans have been wiped out he is proven wrong when they encounter a small band of survivors, led by a man named Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who are trying to find a dam that could re-power their settlement in the city. While Caesar and Malcolm both want peace people on both sides are keen to wipe the other off the map…by any means necessary.

The first thing you’ll notice with this film is how different it is from “Rise of”, in structure, tone and themes. This is a good thing because it’s nice to have a sequel that is a different kind of film than its predecessor but at the same time it makes comparisons between the two films difficult. They are two totally different films that just happen to star the same character.

Speaking of Caesar Andy Serkis does a pretty good portraying the ape. It’s a more subtle performance than the previous effort likely due to the character being older, wiser and more even tempered than he was in “Rise of” but it’s a solid performance nonetheless especially considering the motion capture aspect. The actors as apes in general do a good job with their clearly difficult performances with Toby Kebbell as Koba being the obvious standout. I really loved how they handled the apes in general, with their movements, their limited speech and their sign language communication; it was all very well done. In fact the four main apes, Caesar, Koba, Maurice, and Blue Eyes, were probably the most developed characters in the film which is surprising but very welcomed.

The next time you have an urge to give a bonobo liquor you should probably ignore it
A lot of people have been raving about the ape performance. I think for my part I may feel so used to the motion captured stuff that it didn’t impress as much as everyone else. I liked it a lot but I’m not salivating over it the way other reviewers have been.

The human cast was fine though they pretty much just a wide range of archetypes we’ve already seen before. There’s a heroic guy who just wants to keep his family safe, a short sighted leader who keeps making dangerous mistakes, and an ignorant asshole that refuses to see his enemy as anything other than animals. Same shit different movie. There are no negatives in any of their performances but I just don’t think their characters were particularly memorable or interesting. But again the apes were so I guess it’s okay.

The plot was pretty good. There was a lot of tension but it was also kind of predicable. If you watch the first half hour and you can’t predict who will betray who by the second act you probably fell asleep. Plus there were some contrivances that bugged me, like certain cast members being so goddamn determined to hate the other side, especially on the human side as their reasoning was really silly and dumb. Of course I’m a reasonably intelligent person who often overestimates the intellect of the general population so perhaps this was actually a realistic depiction of desperate people in desperate times looking for something to blame. That didn’t make me less annoyed though. Overall the plot did its job.

Oh yeah, I guess Gary Oldman is in this movie too
The one problem I had with the film was the apes’ look. Like the first film it seemed pretty clear what I was looking at was CG and not real. While this is likely a fairly minor issue but it did take me out of it a few times. The detail on them is fantastic though so it’s not like this was bad CGI or anything so I probably shouldn’t be so hard on it.

Honestly I don’t have much to say about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It’s a good movie, far better than your average summer flick. This film has gotten such high praise from so many sources that I almost feel bad for not scoring it higher. Perhaps some of the more subtle nuances were over my head or perhaps issues in my personal life are too distracting for me to fully enjoy the film but all I know is that I really liked this movie but I think calling the “year’s best film so far” is overselling it a bit.

Malcolm: "So what do you guys do for fun?"
Caesar: "Throw poo. Go crazy. Rip human balls off." 
Malcolm: "Neat."
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets 4 Damn Dirty Apes out of 5.


-Interesting performances from the ape cast

-Highly detailed CGI

-Great character development for the apes

-Solid plot


-A bit predictable

-Humans are not as developed

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