It’s about the middle of July and usually about this time we get a blockbuster to save us from the bland, and often carbon copy, comedies that fill the theaters. While normally the movie of choice is some big superhero movie like the Dark Knight or Spiderman, this summer lacks justice driven superheroes running around in tights. Instead the middle of July feature has some harrier characters dishing out justice, ones who were inspired years ago when science fiction wasn’t all about special effects. I’m talking about Planet of the Apes, and today I review the latest installment in the series by director Matt Reeves. So let’s get cracking on this sequel shall we?
Three years ago we learned the origins of how the apes began their journey into dominance over the planet Earth, the ending leaving a cliffhanger that opened up a wide array of possibilities for the sequel to follow. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up ten years after the ending of the first film in a world where humans are on the brink of extinction and apes are the fittest for survival. From the very beginning Dawn opens up with a dark and somber mood, the mere opening hunt a precipice for the intensity that is to follow. Within minutes we are introduced into setting, and immersed into the drama at hand, foregoing drawn out explanations and tired dialog intense scenes and getting right to the situation at hand. Through the use of imaginative design, cinematography magic, and some simple, though effective, dialog the story pans out and keeps the plot going. Over the course of the entire movie, the savage wilderness the world has become keeps one on their toes, wondering what event will offset the perilous balance the world is currently in. While most of it is predictable, from some very obvious character designs, I was engrossed in the movie, happy to see Reeves pushing my suspicions to the limit and keeping my adrenaline pumping with action that fit the timing and lasted an appropriate amount of time. These heated moments would then disperse and often open up characters to conveniently timed interventions that allowed for more details to enfold. For this reviewer, this is the art of storytelling, building components such as action and CGI around a story instead of the other way around.
Speaking of CGI, let’s talk about the special effects of this movie. Once again the design team has created beautiful effects in the tarnished planet of Earth. The chimps in particular are gorgeous in design, with hair, skin, and scars mixed together to give the main apes differentiating qualities to help tell them apart. Their movement is fluid, the apes lumbering, swinging, and acting in a manner equivalent to their real life counterparts adding more to the realism at hand. Andy Serkis’ talents continued to impress me in this film, as he brought the humanity to Caesar in many forms from facial expressions to the awkward hybrid gait he sports. Of course what impressed me the most were the battle scenes, where the fast pace, and explosive action are true tests to the animation at hand. Dawn passes with flying colors, the animation remaining fluid, as the camera captures the hectic warzone between man and ape. Best of all you actually get to see the action, as opposed to other movies where the camera can’t seem to stand still long enough to see anything. Though not only are the monkeys well designed, but also the world itself is incredible from the decaying metropolis that was once San Francisco, to the secluded fortress of the monkeys. I felt the world before me could exist, impressed with the creative integration of nature and architecture mish mashed together in ways I would never had thought about doing.
Yet the biggest thing the visuals and acting did for me, was stir up a wide array of emotions. Dawn of the Apes is filled to the brim with intense moments that bring out a wide variety of responses over the course of two hours. Caesar himself opens up many of these doors, his facial reactions in particular reflecting his soul, while also being portrayed as the hero from well angled shots. Even the other monkeys will get you worked up as they try to adapt to the changes in their world, only to be treated like scum in a manner that similar to racism. Yet, a few rogue monkeys also reveal the darker and inhumane, or should I say inAPane, manner that makes them no better than the humans they so despise. Of course the biggest thing that affected me was seeing the death of the apes, their high-pitched screams of terror penetrating my core. As for the humans, they too have some moments that are emotionally moving, but they paled in comparison to the CGI simians. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman did a fine job acting, but they took a back seat for a good portion of the film, the exception being Clarke, merely providing a little story and situation relief when needed.
My words can do very little to justify how much I enjoyed this movie. The dynamic character that is Caesar continues to evolve, bringing so many people into the world and creating a story worthy of introducing us back into the nostalgic world. With great action and suspense, incredible visuals, and a wide array of emotions, this may be one of the best sequels I have ever seen. Therefore I strongly encourage everyone to head to the theater to see this film, as it is also one of the best for the summer. I look forward to the next movie in this series, and hope Reeves will take lead again.
My scores for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are:
Movie Overall: 9.0