Review - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), PG-13, 130 minutesAs I began writing this review, I was surprised when I realized that I had never reviewed 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. So here it is in short: I really enjoyed Rise. I felt as though it worked well as either a prequel to the original franchise or as a franchise reboot (which is the route actually being taken by these newer films).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a direct follow up, beginning with a prologue filling in the events immediately following the end credit sequence of Rise when the infected neighbor had a nose bleed at the airport, beginning the global spread of the 'simian flu' virus caused by ALZ-113.  We then jump ahead about ten years to a time when the majority of humanity has died as a result of the flu. The ape population led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) out of San Francisco has flourished in the wild. They've begun building their own civilization and their intelligence continues to increase.  A new generation of apes is reaching maturity and speech is even possible if the situation warrants it.  A small population of humans survives in San Francisco and they send out a search party in attempts to locate and assess the viability of an old hydroelectric dam in the area.  The party crosses 
paths with Caesar's community and out of fright one of the humans - Carver (Kirk Acevedo) - shoots Ash (one of the younger generation of apes). Koba (Caesar's second in command) feels that it is an act of violence as opposed to an accident and strongly advises against trusting the humans but Caeser eventually reaches a rocky truce with Malcolm (Jason Clarke), one of the leaders of the surviving human colony.  Eventually distrust on all sides leads to an ape mutiny and a war with the humans.  An alliance between Malcolm and an injured Caesar attempts to bring an end to the war and re-insert Caesar as the alpha male among the ape population. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does a good job of progressing the franchise's story. We all know that it will eventually lead to a planet dominated by the apes, but the struggle for survival by both humans and apes is interesting.  The greatest thing about this film is the special effects. The apes look, move, and emote extremely realistically. They fit right in and do not appear to be green screened in at any point. This is thanks primarily to motion-capture extraordinaire Andy Serkis and his team who acted out all of the ape's parts.  I am in no way short changing the effects geniuses that worked on this film, but Serkis's proven motion-capture methods demand to be recognized.  This film easily has the best effects of any flick so far this year, and honestly, I'd be very surprised if anything else this year could even hold a candle to it.

The original Planet of the Apes franchise had a very niche fan base, and while this reboot series certainly has very strong sci-fi framework, I feel as though that because of things like the amazing effects work, and the relatable story (how many of us have been impacted by the effects of Alzheimer's?) it is more easily accessible by the general public. There's good action, good drama, and a good story that continues to be built upon.  In what has become a somewhat lackluster summer for films, I would definitely recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and I eagerly anticipate the next chapter in the franchise.













*****SPOILERS*****


- As mentioned before, Andy Serkis brought Caesar to life.  The other actors/actresses responsible for motion capturing the apes: Toby Kebbell (Koba), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), and Larramie Doc Shaw (Ash). 

- In my attempt to give an overview without being too spoilery, I neglected to mention the efforts of Gary Oldman (Dreyfus - the other leading figure of the human survivors), Keri Russell (Ellie - Malcolm's significant other), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander - Malcolm's son).  They help to emotionally ground the film.  Dreyfus in his desperation to find a way for the remaining human population to survive no matter what the cost, while Ellie and Alexander are in Malcolm's camp in efforts to co-exist with the apes. 

- Kodi Smit-McPhee has grown drastically since 2010's Let Me In (also directed by Matt Reeves).  I almost didn't recognize him.

- This is the seventh overall Planet of the Apes film.

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