“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” marks a technological milestone in computer graphics, as never before have non-human, anthropormorphized creatures seemed so very real.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the sequel to 2011’s “Ape” series reboot, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” In the 10 years since “Dawn” ended, the human-created concoction to reverse Alzheimer’s has led to widespread viral annihilation of most of humanity (sparing only “1 in 500” due to rare genetic immunity). And yet, although humanity itself is in great decline, the same virus has allowed the development of an ape civilization with great cultural and intellectual gains. Still led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the ape camp of seemingly thousands of males, females, and their offspring has created a civilization in the woods of Northern California bound by a common language (American Sign Language) and emergent ethical mores (“ape shall not kill ape”).
This renaissance of apedom is interrupted by the sudden reappearance of a small group of humans. The humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), have ventured into the woods to repair a dam in a desperate attempt to restore power to their small survivor colony (in nearby San Francisco). Although threatened by their surprise presence, Caesar wishes to keep the peace and avoid potential ape deaths by allowing the few humans access to the dam. But other apes, like Koba (Toby Kebbell), are far too angry about the return of the humans and the threat that even a few may pose to the apes’ rise.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is not your average summer “blow-‘em-up, guns-a-blazing” blockbuster. Like the previous “Ape” films, it continues the series’ heavy sociological exploration of cultural roles, race relations, and even re-emphasizes “Rise’s” theme of animal rights. Again, we are to discover that radical individuals, not cultural groups as a whole, make dangerous decisions. In essence, “Dawn” is a war movie with overtones from the story of “Julius Caesar,” himself. But, what makes the dark film so fascinating is not its throwaway human characters, but instead, its apes.
Never before on film have the apes seemed so real, so lifelike, so believable. Led by the incomparable Andy Serkis (who should receive a special Oscar for his often unsung dramatic work), the apes, themselves, are eye-poppingly fascinating and the audience is easily drawn into their culture on the rise. The apes’ eyes, their movements, and even their characters’ intellectual choices make them seem more than human and far more interesting than Malcolm and his cohorts.
At times, the two-hour-plus film drags a bit, but once battles for supremacy begin, the film regains its thundering presence. The massive fight scene involving swinging apes in the remnants of former glorious San Francisco is second-to-none technological marvel.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is rated 4 of 5 stars. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief strong language.”
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