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Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – A simian spectacular

Posted by on July 11, 2014 – 7:45 am

Dawn of the Planet of the ApesI’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film, but the new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not only the best out of the eight films in the Apes franchise, it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year and one of the most exciting, thought-provoking and entertaining films ever made. This movie is jaw-dropping astounding from start to finish and is a simian spectacular of the highest order.

The primates have certainly evolved over the past 45-plus years, from Roddy McDowall in an ape suit (which is already pretty dang cool) to the incredible Andy Serkis performance capture, animated (by Weta Digital) into a fully realized and absolutely believable, walking and talking chimp. But Serkis as the ape leader, Caesar, is not the only star of this fantastic film. There are several complex simian characters who are easily equal to their human counterparts on a dramatic performance and narrative level.

Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback, Dawn picks up where 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes left off, with the manmade simian flu virus spreading across the Earth as the apocalypse is played out via actual news footage that has been ingeniously edited to seem like it is speaking to the film’s fictional end-of-the-world event.

After the quick newscast set-up, the film begins with a close-up of Caesar’s piercing eyes and the camera pulling back to reveal 130 minutes of amazing ape action as the band of primates, who escaped their human captors at the end of Rise, must face off against the remaining humans who are struggling to survive in the decayed ruins of what was once San Francisco.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film

The humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), are desperate to reactivate a hydroelectric generating dam that is nestled within the ape’s forest domain, in the Muir Woods outside of the city. But the two races don’t trust each other, and, as seems to happen in the real world, there are extremist factions on both sides that are determined to start a war.

Although the Planet of the Apes mythos becomes a little convoluted when you blend the timelines and stories of the 1970s films with the most recent movies, in terms of narrative, Dawn is probably closest to 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. It’s not a remake, or a direct sequel or prequel, but an intelligent re-envisioning of the whole concept.

The set design and art direction in this movie is truly remarkable and you’ll see the early, primitive version of an ape city and society that will one day evolve into the version we saw in the original Planet of the Apes film.

The Ape movies have always used brilliant allegory to examine the current state of the world we live in (as does all the best science fiction), and Dawn is no exception. One can easily see the socioeconomic turmoil in the Middle-East within the frames of this film, with race relations, pandemic fear and some gun control commentary thrown in to boot.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes“Visually stunning” is a term thrown around a lot within movie reviews, but in this case I don’t believe those words can begin to describe how blown away I was by the cinematic eye-candy that director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin serve up in this film. There are a dozen shots that will be forever etched in my mind’s eye, and in particular a point-of-view sequence with the mean and nasty ape, Koba (Toby Kebbell), atop a tank turret is one of the most astonishing things I’ve ever seen on a movie screen.

If you are an Apes fan, then like Rise, Dawn is filled with nods to the other films in the franchise, but one of the nicest touches is the score by Michael Giacchino, which will take you back to the earliest Ape films. I loved the soundtrack and they even manage to perfectly fit in the old folk song, “The Weight” by The Band, at one point. Another very nice touch (at least for comic book fans) is that Charles Burns’ graphic novel, Black Hole, also plays a role in a key ape-to-human scene within the movie.

So what’s wrong with this film? Well, nothing, really, but if I had to mention one drawback it would be a slight lull in the action after the movie’s second act. But this is more a case of traveling at 90 MPH, then dropping down to 65 for a short spell. You’re still moving at the speed-limit, but it seems insanely slow after going so fast. I’m not complaining at all.

For a near perfect moviegoing experience, it is going to be hard to beat Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this summer, or even this year. This one is going onto my list of the greatest films ever made by man or ape. Don’t miss it on the big screen. Grade: 9/10

If you can’t get enough Ape action, may I suggest that you check out the awesome new comic book series, “Six-Gun Gorilla”? You can read our interview with the 6GG writer, Brian Christgau, HERE!

Photos © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film