Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the most recent installment in the Apes franchise that takes place ten years after the events of the first film, where over 90% of the human population has been wiped out by the Simian Flu. With the human population reduced, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis, and the other apes create a civilization in the Muir Woods outside of San Francisco, until their peace is disturbed by encountering humans for the first time in ten years. What ensues is a variation on the classic cultures collide scenario that we have seen in various films such as Avatar and Dances with Wolves.
From the start, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, or Planet of the Apes for the sake of brevity, is a film about the apes, not the humans. The first 10-15 minutes it exclusively focuses on the apes and their civilization that they have built thanks to their enhanced intelligence. Most of the "dialogue" during these early scenes is sign-language between the apes with subtitles to translate, and thanks to the motion capture performances, it does an effective job at drawing the audience into the world it has created. Of course, humans are introduced later and conflict is started.
On a side note, the original Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite pre-Star Wars sci-fi films, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, while not great, was a good solid movie.
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Action,
Release Date: July 11, 2014
Running Time: 131 minutes
MMPA rating: PG-13
The Good: Generally exceptional special effects, Andy Serkis' performance is amazing, Impressive motion capture performances across the board, Koba is a well executed character, Changes the clichéd formula just enough, Likable ape characters,
The Bad: Clichéd jerk that screws things up, Predictable, Clichéd plot elements, Koba's plot armor, Forgettable human characters,
Plot: 8.1/10- After the set up of the apes' culture, the film focuses on the human characters trying to fix the dam while negotiating and bonding with the apes. For the first hour, the film is almost exclusively the interaction between the humans with apes. While this is mostly effective, it dragged on just a tad too long, although what we got was good.
Unfortunately, the film suffers in the overall narrative being the same story that you have seen many times with the same predictable jerk human screwing things up, which leads to cheap conflict and predictable resolution. Later in the film, more generally predictable things happen and none of it is surprising. With that said, it includes a few variations on the story that sets it apart from the rest, and the execution of said story is one of the best that I have seen. Again, however, I knew how everything would go down before the 30 minute mark. But, I have to give the film credit for not focusing on any romance.
*Spoilers* My favorite aspect of the execution is how the movie does not vilify the humans. Sure, Gary Oldman's character tried to blow up the apes, but he did not know the entire situation, so he is not really the villain unlike how Stephen Lang's character is vilified in Avatar. Koba is the main villain, and he is definitely a villain. *End Spoilers*
Characterization: 7.8/10- Caesar is an all around great character. He is the star of the film and the main reason why the film as a whole works, because he tested and the resolution is satisfying. Blue Eyes, Caesar's son, actually has a decent character arc considering his limited screen time, and it is very effective.
Koba is the only other ape is significant screentime, and *SPOILERS* he is a great villain. Even though his plot armor is annoying at times, Koba is a classic villain that is almost a throwback to ones from the 80s. However, some of his blatant villainy did make certain plot points predictable, but other than that, he is perfect type of villain for this story. *END SPOILERS*
While the apes are surprisingly fleshed out as characters, the humans are generally forgettable and one note. Malcolm is the only human character with significant screentime, and even though he was not a bad character, he is just rather generic. Gary Oldman's character, Dreyfus, seemed as though his part was cut from the film, since the director obviously wanted you to actually care about the character, despite the 10 minutes of screentime. Other than that, Carver is the definition of a clichéd troublemaker, and his actions are entirely predictable, and the rest of the human cast is completely forgettable.
Action: 7.9/10- While the first hour is void of action, the battle sequences later in the film actually add some new elements to the usual shootout battles thanks to the apes' physicality.
Acting: 9.0/10- Andy Serkis is the best! It cannot be stressed enough how amazing Andy Serkis is at motion capture performances. He is an innovator in the industry, and how he brings the character of Caesar to life incredible. Of course the special effects guys should also be given credit, but Serkis gets a Best Actor nomination from me! Toby Kebbell as Koba is exceptional as well, as he plays off Serkis' great presence. The rest of the main ape characters are not given a lot of screentime, but their performances are convincing.
On the other hand, the human roles are generally decent, but nothing special. Jason Clarke's performance never hinders the film, and he does have some great scenes with Serkis. Gary Oldman is underused, and the rest of the cast are all average.
Special effects: 9.7/10- With the majority of the film featuring computer generated characters, the special effects are obviously a selling point, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does not disappoint. Even though a few scenes' special effects suffered from being too noticeably animated, overall, you almost forget that the apes are computer generated at times, thanks to the immersive effects (and motion capture performances).
Soundtrack: 7.0/10- Michael Giacchino's score is all around good; not much more to be said.
Entertainment Value: 8.0/10- Despite telling a clichéd story, the film easily managed to entertain me throughout.
Overall: 8.1/10- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes might be predictable and bring almost nothing new to the story; however, the execution and presentation of the typical story elements is where the film excels, which is largely thanks to the impressive effects and well developed ape characters. In fact, I would go as far to say that this is the best example of the clichéd story that I have seen in film.
Closing comments: The only thing that puzzles me is why the critics were so positive about the film when it was released. It was certainly a great film and one of the best of the year, but it is still a variation on a story that we have seen before. Regardless, you should most definitely give it a watch.
Recommended for: Andy Serkis fans, Sci-Fi fans, Drama fans, Anyone that watched the previous film,
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