“Apes” conquer the summer…so far
When watching “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with an actual audience, there was something I noticed. Right from the opening, there was nothing but total silence throughout the entire movie. And to me, that was a good thing. I feel the viewers easily understood the kind of film “Dawn” is. Intense and all-out spectacle. Sure they did laugh at moments that were meant to be funny and enjoyed the cute moments of Ceaser’s baby curiously looking at the humans in camp. But everything else was so thrilling and suspenseful, that the only thing you could hear was one person eating popcorn or a pin drop. Perhaps that is a good thing seeing how explosive and remarkable this entry in the Apes series truly lived up to being.
The story continues where “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” left off as apes of all kinds were getting a testing drug embellished into them as the miracle fluid acts more of a virus to people as it does to animals. Years later, the Earth is overcome by the genetic virus so much that the remains of humanity are greatly questioned as Ceaser (Andy Serkis returning once again in his motion capture role) ponders this while trying to control his tribe in the woodlands of San Francisco. As luck may have it (or unluckily seeing how things progress), a colony of humans surviving from the virus remain in the city and are placed in a struggle to power on the city lights and electricity. The good news is that the city is connected to an electric dam and some tinkering is needed to get it up and running. The bad news is the location. The dam happens to be on Ceaser’s property and after an early encounter that doesn’t go too well, he declares all humans are banned from his territory.
A small band heads to the forest led by one person named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who not only wishes to get power for the city but even hopes to establish peace between humans and apes. Something that even Ceaser secretly wants but unfortunately is unsure if humans truly want to co-exist or wage war considering the fear the simians establish. One of them named Koba (Toby Kebbell taking over the role) still has a hatred for humans noting the medical experimentation he was given in the previous film and only wishes to exterminate and conquer humanity than make peace.
A mirror image of that is Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus who is the leader of the surviving people and his trust with the ape-kind is extremely low. On top of that, he is very much a figure that makes speeches for huge crowds to send hope when at the same time fears anarchy among the group. In the first scene where he is talking down a group of people, Dreyfus looks like he’s ready to break down as he pulls out of hopeful message to the folks which feels off the top of his head and only says hopeful things to null the crowd. His character becomes more clearer later on for his fragile and nervous personality as his leadership skills feel that of the reverse Commission Gordon. Instead of provoking order and hope for the sake of pursuing to restore them, he hides behind a megaphone and says things to keeps the spirits up even when they are close to loosing electrical power for an eternity.
What works the best about “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is how you really can’t pick a side as humans and apes are given a purpose and reason to go against each other or try and make contact. The people fear the outside considering the amount of loved ones they lost as the apes do considering the chaos they created and how negative humanity sees them now. There is no “one-sided” conversation as both have their reasons for why they want to butt heads with each other or hope to make a form of treaty. Does it all work out in the end? That is something I unfortunately can’t ruin seeing its the heart of the movie. And to expose all that goes in the rest of the movie or even in any portion of it would be like taking a child’s Christmas gift two weeks before its due, rip it out of the box and plop it into his lap with a cynical drop. And that is something I wish not to do.
But what I can say is how slick and well-done the production vales are compared to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” While “Rise” was all set-up, “Dawn” is more fueled by story and emotion. You really want to see where things end up and at the same time feel bad for both sides and their bitter prejudice which doesn’t feel tossed in for manipulation. Again, there is support for this instead of “Avatar” that felt predicable and uneven. Even more so are the action sequences that are intense and beautifully filmed to the point where you feel like you are there. The one shot takes and stylish camera moves enhance the battles to feel like all-out war instead of a basic shootout. Even the way the movie is played out in tone and atmosphere that its arguably the most quiet summer blockbuster I’ve seen in a way. Yeah the apes talk in sign language and speak in broken English, but since has there been a movie that tells its story through more visuals and less dialogue. Since when as there been a blockbuster that conveys emotion with no words and just one scene that describes a character. “Dawn” succeeds in that angle as it almost feels like “The Crow” of batch relying a lot on visuals and atmosphere and less focus on characters standing around and speaking their feelings.
What’s more is the evolution of WETA Digital as their special effects for this one have easily one-uped “Rise.” The texture of the fur and skin is so realistic that it almost feels like your seeing actual apes interact with people or ridding around on a horse in a battle scene. Never have I seen a film where its creatures are rendered so well that it feels like they are truly there and not a cheap graphic image. Another positive is the way the movie ends that I sadly can’t spoil. It concludes on a note that is neither high or disappointing and leaves enough room to set up another entry. Without giving too much away, there is no resolution and the message is well-delivered. There is no victor or good thing to war between two races as we know fighting is just one big circle we can’t break from and “Dawn” does its job well addressing that without feeling like our heads were sledgehammered with the message.
And Michael Giacchino’s score feels like they brought Jerry Goldsmith back from the dead to score this episodic and grand feature. Michael nails every beat to a tea to the point it feels like the original score from the 1968 film with little to no enhancements for a modern audience film. In fact, everything about this movie feels like the lost “Planet of the Apes” sequel we never got. The aspect of apes living in a colony of their own as humans fight to keep out of the dark almost feels reminiscent of “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” and if not, a superior remake in a way that washes away the flaws of “Battle.”
While “Rise” felt like it was taking elements from “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” “Rise” also had the distinctive problem of placing little Easter eggs that felt like nods to the series but more distracting (most notable in “Rise” is the Statue of Liberty puzzel Ceaser plays with at one point and Tom Felton fouling up two iconic lines that are used there). On the other hand, “Dawn” not only takes these “Easter eggs” but also respect them. They are performed to the point it feels subtle and not forced and even unnoticed at times (like how the final shot reminded me of the ending to the unrated cut of Conquest or the underground tunnel looking vaguely like the one from Beneath the Planet of the Apes, or that Ceaser’s son is named Blue Eyes, the orangutan from the first movie is named Maurice, the fact that the first law they have is close to the one in Battle and the list goes on). Instead of feeling like moments that take fans of the original series out of the movie, they feel essential to the film and cleverly written.
Being an die-hard Apes fan, I can safely say this entry really brings it back to its roots. To compare, it reminds me a of scene from the fist movie when Charlton Heston’s character digs through some discovered artifacts from long ago to prove the connection between humans and apes. After rummaging through false teeth and eye glasses, he concludes he was a weak being. That scene alone sums up this movie. Its not trying to prove who is the better species but how frighteningly similar they can be. The franchise for years has been asking viewers to hold up a mirror to them and see how flawed we truly are. And this latest entry does that very well.
Posted on July 12, 2014, in In Theaters (Sort of) and tagged Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Franchise, Motion Capture, Planet of the Apes, Reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Science Fiction, War, WETA Digital. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.