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DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (review)

Review by Benn Robbins
Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, 
Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on Characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Premise suggested by Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, 
Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, 
Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Given the current state of Hollywood and their current ongoing disease of only bankrolling remakes/reboots or sequels of established franchises, it is refreshing to see something new from something old.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fine sequel to the already “soft” re-booted series Planet of the Apes, which began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes staring James Franco, Andy Serkis and John Lithgow.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up 10 years after the “Great Simian Flu” wiped out most of humanity.

Shown through a title sequence montage, the plague started with “patient zero” a.k.a the ill fated Dr. Franklin from RotPotA.

Caesar and the other apes that escaped at the end of the previous film have now become a huge colony and are encamped deep in the Northern California woods. Caesar has a son and is teaching him the ways of adulthood. During a hunting expedition the group of Chimps meet up with a small band of humans on a scouting research mission led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby).

When one of the skittish humans accidentally shoots an ape, all hell brakes loose and they barely escape with their lives.

Back in San Francisco, a small community of humans that are “virus proof” and survived the outbreak have slowly been rebuilding their lives and trying to create a semblance of pre-plague “normalcy”.

The group is led by Dreyfus, played by Gary Oldman, who basically is playing an extension of his James Gordon character from the Batman films. Dreyfus is a good man at heart however he, like almost all the people he watches over, lost important people during the epidemic and blame the apes for the near extinction of the human race.

Ironically, as we discovered in the first film, it was the human created AZL-13, Alzheimer’s cure made by James Franco’s character, Will, that actually causes the devastation. Dreyfus is worried because the humans are running out of fuel and power and their only hope is a hydroelectric dam up north. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to him or the others, it is deep within ape territory and now because of the carelessness of one of his own, they may have perpetuated an all out war between humans and ape-kind.

What I love about this film is the very credible characters they have created for the Apes.

From the wise teacher orangutang, Maurice, to the angry and human hating Koba, each ape is given time to develop as a character and when things happen to them, both good and bad, I felt something. None more than with Caesar. Caesar is played by the incredible and genius Andy Serkis (Golum in The Lord of the Rings films). Even though he was shot in motion capture and the “ape”  was digitally mapped over him, his performance is crucial and key to this role.

With the current technology the animators are able to put every nuance, in gesture and look, into the animated Ape that Serkis gives in his performance. Also unlike the past digital technology, no longer is the actor/actresses playing the role of the animated character relegated to a studio nowhere near the other actors. With this current incarnation of Motion Capture the actors are right there with the other actors acting and interacting in real time on set making the performances that much more believable and true. Gone are the days of Charles Fleischer off camera saying his lines while actors pantomime with green balls and floating props. Done away with are the Ahmed Best’s goofy headgear “acting” out scenes with Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor with silver orbs.

This is about as close to being with the digital characters as you can get. And because the detail is so fine and they get every muscle movement in the face, the animation is just that much more believable but without that “uncanny valley” feel like you get with films like Polar Express or X-Men: The Last Stand. The actor is so important. Serkis is just as present in the roll of Caesar as Roddy McDowell was in the rubber mask in the original films.

The story is very solid and while not wholly original has so many great moments. Like it’s predecessor and the films it derives from, this film is chock full of sociological and moralistic analogies and balances the scales of preachy and not preachy pretty well. Taking a lot of cues from the 4 sequels of the original PotA film, fans will enjoy all the nods to the original series.

Jason Clarke makes for a good counterpart and friend to Caesar. He has the heart of James Franco’s character, Will, from RotPotA and genuinely wants good for both man and ape. Kerri Russell (Felicity, Waitress) is his friend and companion, a doctor and his son, Alexander played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Paranorman, Let Me In) join him the pro ape/human side. Equally great, as always, is Oldman, whom I personally think has never acted poorly in a film. He always brings his A game. Even if the film is crap. This one is NOT crap at all. Just clarifying.

Loyal fans of both the original PotA films and the new ones, even those still loyal to the Tim Burton fiasco of 2001 will be happy with this film.

The writing team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who return to scribe this film have penned another great installment to the PotA series. With the direction by Cloverfield and Let Me In director, Matt Reeves, this film is a well made, thought provoking and endearing film.

Visually stunning with amazing special effects, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the perfect Summer blockbuster film.

I look forward to the next film in this series.

   

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