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Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
07.10.2014
9 10
See JimmyO's video review here!

PLOT: Ten years after the collapse of human civilization, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape brethren have taken to the forests, where they live an idyllic life and are establishing themselves as the new keepers of the planet. Their society is thrown into disarray by the arrival of human remnants. Caesar is keen to co-exist peacefully with the humans, but rogue ape and human factions put their fragile peace in jeopardy.

REVIEW: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was the rare reboot that worked like gangbusters. Maybe it was that no one was expecting much in the wake of the tepid remake from 2001, but RISE caught a lot of us off-guard in that it was uncommonly sophisticated for a big-studio-blockbuster. While it took three-years and the departure of Rupert Wyatt to finally deliver the follow-up we've all been craving, it can't be denied that director Matt Reeves has crafted a thrilling and inventive sequel that's the rare blockbuster with both brains and brawn.

Picking up a full decade after RISE, it's interesting to see how Reeves and co., have made one of the best films in the PLANET OF THE APES series by patterning their film closely on arguably one of the worst, the dodgy BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Boasting a justifiably bigger budget, this is epic in every sense. The early scenes, featuring a middle-aged Caesar as he juggles his responsibilities as a father with his role as the primate saviour are intriguing enough that they could have made an entire film without a single human and it still would have been compelling. As amazing as the motion capture work was in the last film, here it's arguably better, with Serkis again conveying the emotional life of his character despite very little dialogue. His eyes and mannerisms are stunningly life-like, and if ever a performer was worthy of awards consideration for their work in motion-capture, Serkis is the guy. While he may have some big-name human co-stars, make no mistake – Serkis is the star.

Supporting Serkis among his mo-cap performers is Toby Kebbell as the war-like Koba, a warrior ape who was formerly experimented on by scientists and is obsessed with payback on the species as a whole. Judy Greer, Karin Konoval, and Nick Thurston are among the other prominent mo-cap actors, and for anyone unsure of how effective the technology is when used with the right cast, just see how easy it is to differentiate between the apes, even when many of them look alike. Everyone brings something different to their respective ape characters, and it's incredible how far the technology has come in only three years.

As for the humans, while they certainly take a backseat to the apes, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee bring a warmth to their parts that keep them from feeling like tacked-on characters. It helps that the script is excellent, with everyone getting a fleshed-out back story. That includes Gary Oldman's character, who could have easily become a raving antagonist, but always seems somewhat justified in his actions, and his performance is nuanced and largely sympathetic.

Given the bigger-budget, one can also safely assume that the action is done on a much grander scale, although it's interesting that Reeves is able to avoid really hitting any action beats until the movie is more than half-over. It's refreshing to see a film like this where you're not bombarded with carnage and able to invest in the story, making the action even more effective once it kicks in. The set-pieces are imaginatively directed by Reeves, with lots of interesting visuals and shots, especially a really cool one of Koba riding a tank, although Reeves is careful to keep everything somewhat grounded. The musical score by Michael Giacchino is one of his best, and highly reminiscent of his work on LOST, emphasizing what turns out to be a surprisingly emotional tale.

Suffice to say, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the kind of film that restores your faith in big-studio blockbusters. This is highly intelligent science-fiction, and arguably the best instalment in the series since Charlton Heston first slapped on a loincloth. Clearly the saga has a lot of life left in it.

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