July 11, 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I tell you, when I go to talk about the Apes movies, I have to take some time to pause and make sure I am using the right title. When I went to the ticket booth I asked for a ticket to see The Rise of the Dawn of the Battle For the Conquest Beneath the Planet of the Apes. It was quite the mouthful. Fortunately, I was given the ticket for the right movie. All jokes aside, this movie easily stands as one of the best of the summer. It really is that good. It seems the rare occurrence that we get the summer blockbuster type of movie that hasn't been dumbed down, like the Transformers franchise.

When Rise of the Planet of the Apes arrived back in 2011, there had to be some question about the feasibility for continued relevance of the franchise. It had a solid run following the 1968 classic, with four sequels and a television show, but it ran its course and faded into the past. Then the Tim Burton remake arrived in 2001 and did well, but is not well regarded, but I enjoyed it. Anyway, the new start came from director Rupert Wyatt and delivered an intelligent and exciting new start. It did not remake what we knew, but went back to show the start. Now we have the follow up to that and it ups the ante, delivering a fantastic and intelligent summer action flick.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up the story ten years after the events of Rise. The opening credits tell us of a disease that was the by product of the experiments in the first film that wipes out wide swathes of humanity, a biological apocalypse if you will. While humanity is left in small pockets, the apes, led by Caesar, have created their own society in the forest outside of San Francisco.

The apes wonder if there is anything left of humanity, as they have not seen any for years. Of course that means they are about to meet some. That meeting does not really go well, as some shots are fired and the humans leave in a hurry. The question remains, why were the humans in the forest? Well, they are running out of power and want to try and get the hydro-power plant running again, which just happens to be in the forest.

Caesar decides to let the people, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Lawless, Farscape), do their work, much to the chagrin of Caesar's second in command, Koba (Toby Kebbell). Of course, the genuine request of Malcolm and his desire for peace does not stop either side from being wary of the other and make their own preparations should things go south.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fascinating follow up to Rise. It takes us well into the new world that has been created. We are taken inside the newly formed ape society and learn of the ideals upon which it is based. They are ideals we would also be well served to live by, but we also see the other side. We see how behaviors and attitudes can be learned based on the example of others, whether misguided or not.

This movie shows the best and the worst that society has to offer and how ideals can be manipulated and twisted to serve a different purpose. This movie shows the righteous standing for what they believe is right, while we watch others prey on people's fears and ignorance, using manipulated information to serve their purposes. It is truly fascinating to watch this overwhelmingly grey world eat its way into the actions of some, whole others struggle to rise above it.

This sequel is all we could have hoped for and more. It is intelligent, uncompromising, action packed, and very entertaining. If you asked me a few years ago of something like this would work, I am not sure I would say it could. I am glad to have been proven wrong. Director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) and writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback have crafted a movie that believably builds this new world, delivering characters that are interesting, involving, and morally complex. This is not a black and white world.

The acting is very good all around, having Gary Oldman in a supporting role helps bring an added layer of credibility to the surrounding action, but it really is Jason Clarke's movie on the human side. However, this movie is so much more about the ape society, and to that end we have to give a lot of credit to Andy Serkis. This guy is seriously amazing, he, along with all the other actors portraying apes, in conjunction with the special effects team have done something very special. These are the most fully realized digital creations I have seen. They simply own this movie. If you thought his work was good in the prior film, or King Kong, or Lord of the Rings, you are in for a surprise.

This movie really is a treat, that summer blockbuster with a brain and characters to be interested in. At this point in the year, it is certainly one of the better big movies to hit theaters. This is proof there is life in this franchise, if you did not believe it from the prior film. It is clear they have gotten the right people to work on this project to make it something worthwhile and not just a bunch of effects thrown at the screen.

Savor this summer treat.

Highly Recommended.

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