'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' review, starring Andy Serkis and Gary Oldman

By Will Ashton,
Author Rating: 
4.0 Stars - Very Good

Undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of 2011, not just the summer but the year, was Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

While everyone — including myself — were getting ready to write the movie off thanks to its push back release date, its August debut, its lack of buzz and the simple fact that it was yet another reboot to the Planet of the Apes franchise, the movie became a masterfully executed reimagining to the series. Thanks to a thoughtfulness not typically reserved for these types of blockbusters, as well as its stunning visuals and its tour-de-force lead performance from Andy Serkis.

So, unlike its predecessor, expectations were fairly high for the next installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. While this surprise factor doesn’t quite make it the smash success that the first one was, the continued tradition of its attention to characters, encompassed with its darker tone and its richer appreciation of the consequences of its narrative actions, make this sequel more than just an acceptable continuation to this exceptional series.

This sequel chronicles 10 years after the events of the first film, with the Simian Flu wiping out the majority of the human race and the apes growing stronger in their isolation. Caesar (Serkis), the ape that led the revolution, is now more than just a leader of his kind; he is a family ape now, with a wife, a son and a newly born child. With “two winters” passed since a person has been in sight in the ape community, things soon change when an isolated group of human survivors attempt to regain electricity power to their stripped-down community.

Despite the reluctance of his tribe, Caesar chooses to trust the humans—despite some of his better judgments—with his past and growth formulated from their kindness. But as he grows closer to mankind once again, his alliance to his own breed begins to wan, as one of his own attempts to change the status quo.

To address the obvious, this is—once again—another commanding, masterful performance from Serkis, and the special effects are, once again, state of the art, and even more incredible than they were in the first movie. Through the use of real environments in most of its running time, the movie accomplishes special effects wizardly that should, and hopefully will, be noticed.

The detail to fur, especially in conditions like water and mud, are just astounding, and through the incredible performances by Serkis, and also Karin Konoval as Maurice, Terry Notary as Rocket, Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes, Caesar’s son, and especially Toby Kebbell as Koba, the apes and their consequences have never been more real and tangible. That, in turn, helps to serve their narrative arcs in a more astounding and enjoyably complex ways.

But what are good special effects if they don’t serve a good story? Thankfully, this movie never has to worry about that, as the story this time around is arguably richer and more thought provoking than the first. Continuing the themes of the original 1986 film, the movie always seems invested in exploring the social themes of its narrative, studying these characters to explore not only the merits of our being, but what culture can also represent in the merits of basic living, human or ape. In some ways, this installment, and Rise, eclipse the original film by showcasing the humble begins of this reborn culture and, therein by, studying more closely the perils and similarities of a new culture to ours.

Although, of course, the apes are the true stars here, one should not forget the humans as well. For, this time around, they are just as interesting—and sometimes more so—than they were in the first movie. Most notably, Jason Clarke as Malcolm is the most applause-worthy live-action performance, giving the humans the heart and passion needed to become as investing as they are. Gary Oldman and Keri Russell are also effective in their restrained supporting performances.

But, like the first movie, Dawn also falls victim to stereotyping its characters, particularly its villainous ones, to a fault. While not a villain, Kodi Smit-McPhee gives an oddly lacking performances here as Alexander, but, thankfully, doesn’t take too much screen time. Likewise, Kirk Acevedo’s character is written too broadly for his own good, acting in ways one would likely not in these given circumstance and, therefore, effecting the arcs of his surrounding characters.

Despite this poorly written character, no disrespect should be given to the screenplay as a whole. For the script, written by Rise’s Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver alongside Mark Bomback (The Wolverine), is undoubtedly one of the movie’s greatest strengths. In addition to the aforementioned thoughtfulness they bring, they also succeed in centralizing the movie on its characters. They focus on the little moments in ways these blockbusters rarely ever do. Even if the movie moves in sometimes predictable manners, they still make the journey effective in their study of society’s ruin.

But, of course, major props need to be applauded to director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield). Taking over the reigns of Rupert Wyatt, he continues the traditions that Wyatt brought to the series, while also, effectively, making the series bleaker and more confident than it was before.

Additionally, his masterfully-produced tracking shots in the movie’s more action-driven moments with cinematographer Michael Seresin provide all the action beats needed to make this a hit in its summer slot.

Many critics, including some who were unforgiving of the first movie, have been quick to praise this edition. Some of which are calling it a masterpiece. While I cannot quite call it that, there is no denying that this sequel continues in the first tradition in being one of the best movies, so far, this year. This series remains one of the most engrossing and wonderful new studio franchises in years, and I can’t wait to see what they will produce with their next installment in 2016.

Image courtesy of Famous/ACE/INFphoto.com



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