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Movie review: 'Planet of the Apes' has its game elevated in latest entry

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Rarely should anyone pay attention to advanced exclamatory blurbs that often come with a new release. Occasionally, however, exceptions to the rule amble in as one does Friday (July 11th).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the latest in the series of the revived POTA franchise, represents one. With the summer movie season a little more than half way gone and the summer box office hurting, it may very well be the intelligent blockbuster that swoops in to flex some economic muscle.

In fact, it’s a film that may be too good for the summer in that it isn’t the chasm of vapidity normally associated with movies released at this time of the year.

Some have called it the Empire Strikes Back of the series, meaning that it demonstrably improves on its predecessor. That film was no slouch and its success took the studio by surprise. But Matt Reeves takes what was left of that film and layers it with intrigue, tremendous performances and just plain smarts.

The beauty of Dawn is that he and scriptwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback show reverence for the source material while taking it, modernizing it and using it to hold a mirror up to society today – that’s globally, not domestically.

It’s as much a study in human nature as it is a science fiction and adventure story. In that regard, it’s very subtle bringing the audience to its themes without banging them over the head to reach them.

In this chapter, it’s 10 years past the first film. A virus crafted in a lab decimated the human race with fewer than 10 percent of people, lucky enough to be immune, have survived.

A colony near ground zero of the virus in San Francisco led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) manages to thrive while the apes that escaped in the original film to the forests near Frisco have done the same. Each is unaware of the other until a chance meeting.

A human with an itchy trigger finger shoots an ape and inflames old animosities in the primates who remember the animal testing, the abuse and the ignorance of their lives. They’re led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) who has evolved into a wise leader with a family of his own who thusly has plenty to lose.

But there is palpable tension after the shooting and Malcolm hasn’t completed the task of returning a power plant to working status, something that would require the apes’ permission. The two sides negotiate an uneasy truce that soon unravels courtesy of betrayals.

Therein we see the reflection of humans. Our shortcomings. The fear. The pettiness. And Reeves doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but it is a provocative one to look at.

He directs with confidence, shows skill as a storyteller, but most notably he and his collaborators create a realistic world and a perspective that goes with it.

The acting is superb, especially that of Serkis, who made his name portraying Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films, who may finally get the Oscar nomination that he’s been denied on several occasions. Clarke continues to show that he’s a comer who has a long career ahead of him. Oldman is Oldman. He always delivers.

That can be said of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a franchise that should enjoy several more films if they are of this quality.

Movie: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman
Studio: Fox
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.
Running time: 130 minutes
George’s rating: 4.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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