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'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' finds humanity in surprising places

Jason Clarke shares a moment with Caeser (Andy Serkis) in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
Jason Clarke shares a moment with Caeser (Andy Serkis) in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
20th Century Fox

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Release date: July 11, 2014

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Gary Oldman

Leave it to those damn dirty apes to come forward with one of the most entertaining and thought provoking movies in what has been a pretty mindless summer. But director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) delivers a brutally intense and surprisingly emotional think piece of a blockbuster for a little change of pace in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" -- that's kind of a mouthful, isn't it?

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" picks up ten years after "DotPotA". Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now the unquestioned leader of a community of an ape safe haven, in a forest outside of a devastated San Francisco. They preach to their young about the importance of using their knowledge for growth and remembering their golden rule -- Apes don't kill. They strive to keep violence out of their society thus avoiding destroying their own civilization like the humans did.

Is the plot complicated? No. Surviving humans, including Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Kirk Acevedo enter into ape territory, unaware, seeking a power source for the little shanty town they are holed up in. The apes, who up until this point had no clue any humans survived the simian flu epidemic, aren't quite sure what to think of them. Naturally tensions heighten on both ends. But not in ways you may think. What helps make this one of the better movies of the summer is the movies ability to surprise both with its deeply rooted moral take on racism and tolerance and it's gripping action.

There is no real bad guy here either, which makes it so dramatically interesting. The surviving humans are led by Dreyfus, a weathered Gary Oldman, who just wants to protect what is left of his community of those who survived the virus that wiped out most of humanity. Fear plays a big part as both species are very aware of what led them to this point, but also willing to fight to protect what is left of their civilizations. Humans fear the developing super intelligence of the apes and the threat it poses, while the apes remember all too wellAnd both ape and man have a few amongst them who are willing to go to drastic measures to ensure survival, even if it means triggering the inevitable war.

Matt Reeves shows once again why he is one of the more talented upcoming directors today, having proven himself before with the love-it-or-hate-it "Cloverfield", and the extremely satisfying vampire flick, "Let Me In", itself a remake. What really sells this film is his ability to take a very simple story, combine it with amazing effects and tell an emotionally satisfying story. The film is brutally violent, and at times hard to watch, but always entertaining. Even with a too-long running time of two hours and ten minutes, the film never drags on for too long.

The real star of "Dawn" is Andy Serkis. As Caeser, he is once again, the most connectible character in the movie. The effects and motion capture are state of the art. It's incredible how much emotion the ape characters are able to show through the CGi. When you look into the eyes of the apes, you see the real emotion of the actor behind the computer effects. The fear and sadness resonate beyond the movie magic, sparking an emotional connection that may haunt a few audience members.

If there is anything working against it is knowing that in the end, this is a no win situation. The humor is too few and far between and there is no happy ending to be had. The film both works as an individual film -- you really don't even need to have seen the James Franco flick from three years before -- and as a set up for future films.

In a summer of big budge remakes and mindless sequels, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a big budget sequel to a remake that has all the brains, heart, and moral conflict that has been missing from most if not all of this summer's offerings. Plus, monkey fights are a lot of fun to watch.

Running time: 130 mins.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

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