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Movie review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


The believability of every aspect of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is remarkable. The characters’ motivations, their relationships, and of course the fact that the majority of the cast of this movie is made up of CGI apes that look as real as can be is awe-inspiring, making this film one of the most outstanding chapters in a multi-film franchise that began nearly fifty years ago.

Ellie (Kerri Russell) and Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bond with the apes
20th Century Fox

Directed by Matt Reeves, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the sequel to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, the first film in a reboot of the franchise that began a few years ago. This movie is set a decade after its predecessor. Most of humanity has been wiped out by a disease that was tested on apes who escaped from a lab. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the leader of this group of intellectually-advanced apes, who have since grown into a thriving population that has remained independent of the humans for several years.

However, the apes’ peace is disturbed by a group of humans from an outpost in nearby San Francisco, who need to get a damn in the apes’ territory up and running so they can have power. Neither group trusts the other, but Caesar, having been raised by humans, recognizes their desperation and allows them to work on the damn under his supervision. But not all the apes support this fragile truce, especially Koba (Toby Kebbell), who was tested on extensively by humans in the lab. All-out war between the humans and apes is imminent.

The audience is given just enough backstory on each of the characters, human and ape alike, to understand their motivations in the conflict, and the result is effective. Throughout the film the audience witnesses an evolution of relationships that are complex, moving, and believable. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leader of the group who goes to fix the damn, and Caesar’s relationship is at the center of the film, as they go from outright distrust of one another to a fragile respect to friendship. Caesar and Koba’s relationship is the other crucial element the story relies on, and it goes in basically the opposite direction. Koba hates humans, and as he sees Caesar getting closer to them, he decides he is no longer fit to rule—even though Caesar is his friend and once saved his life.

Clarke is supported by Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays his son, as well as Gary Oldman, who plays a man determined to save people from the apes at any cost, and he improves every scene he is in. But it is the apes who should be marveled at the most. It’s relatively simple to like a well-written “real-life” character. To rely so much on characters who are brought to life by motion capture is a risky venture, but one that has paid off in this series so far. It is a testament to the acting talents of Serkis, Kebbell, and the other actors playing apes in this film, as well as the animators who brought them to life, that these characters are so realistic, it’s hard to believe they are mere creations from a computer. They can carry the film even without the human actors; in fact, the first part of the film depicts only the apes, as they communicate in sign language, and it works just fine.

The big action sequence is saved for the film’s climax, and it sure packs a punch, even though those who have watched the original “Planet of the Apes” movies already know where this story is likely going. With a good first film and a greater sequel, it looks like this series is on the right track.

Runtime: 130 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

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