Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photo starrating-4stars.jpgThis sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes continues after the viral-based pharmaceutical ALZ-112 caused the fall of civilization. Most of the human population has died off due to their own engineered drug. Genetically evolved Caesar leads a society of super-smart apes in Muir Woods. A team of remaining human survivors immune to the virus are living nearby in San Francisco. One day someone inadvertently wanders into ape territory. In a tense standoff, one of the chimpanzees is shot which becomes the seed that leads to a growing battle for supremacy between the ape and human worlds.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is politically audacious. The narrative goes deeper than just people vs. apes. There is division even within the ranks of each species. Caesar the more level headed peace-keeping chimpanzee is pitted directly against his own kind in one bonobo named Koba. He’s an angry militant that wants to attack them first, lest they be attacked. To be fair, the humans did kill off one of their own first or should I say, an individual named Carver (Kirk Acevedo) did. He was acting alone but now his violent act is responsible for starting a brewing war among different primate species. On the human front it’s Malcolm (Jason Clarke) vs. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Guns complicate matters considerably. So does the apes’ ability to ride horses, which looks very cool by the way.

Dawn pushes the technology of CGI a giant step forward. The visual realism achieved in the rendering of the apes is so extraordinary, I forgot I was watching computer images on screen. A lot of the advances in this field are due to the simulation and modeling software developed by Weta Digital back in 2005 during Peter Jackson’s King Kong. However this far surpasses anything seen in that film. The believability of the apes is helped immeasurably by the motion capture performances of the actors that bring life to these creatures. I’ll cite not only the pioneer in the field Andy Serkis (Caesar) but also Toby Kebbell (Koba) who deserves a special mention. They have the biggest parts, but there are many artists putting in great work here. Although unseen, their actual expressions are incorporated into the visuals at various points. Caesar’s love for his primate family is fully felt just as one would feel affinity toward any flesh and blood family up on the screen. I dare say the writing of these digitally rendered creations actually exceeds those of the human characters. I was completely immersed in the story.

I certainly didn’t expect to get a cogent commentary on the nature of war when I sat down to watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but that’s exactly what I got. The script makes a compelling explanation of how the behavior of a few are sometimes extrapolated to everyone in the group. And how a political body might try to justify going to war against, oh I don’t know, let’s say an entire country because of the isolated actions of some fringe fanatics. It makes a strong case that when boundaries are drawn and resources are needed in outlying areas, war is inevitable. There’s plenty of jump-worthy moments to keep action fans entertained as well. I sat there mouth agape on several occasions because the sequences were that thrilling. The quality of Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a nice surprise in the re-introduction of this series back in 2011. Perhaps this production is an even bigger revelation because it’s better and improves upon something that was already quite good. At this rate, the third film should win Best Picture.

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35 Responses to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. They really need to consider mo-cap acting the same as regular acting. Both Serkis and Kebbell were phenomenal here, Serkis might as well win an honorary Oscar for all his amazing work!

  2. martin250 Says:

    good review Mark. just watched this today and agree that the story of the ape family was more interesting (or better written) than any of the humans.

    and yes they were very cool on horseback. the visual realism of the apes is amazing like you said. Serkis(as Caesar) deserves a nomination for best actor if that’s possible.

  3. Got into something of a debate in a theater lobby today with an acquaintance and his co-workers who were all on days off at the time and had seen this and the one guy who didn’t care for it was saying it was an “epic failure” before admitting to “exaggeration in response to the practical rave reviews [we gave]”
    🙂 It’s better than the previous effort and the original (which are the only ones I’ve seen) and Serkis deserves Oscar consideration…:l

  4. garylee828 Says:

    CGI should be reserved for movies like this. I typically hate CGI films b/c most of them tend to focus solely on effects and compromise story. But when you can combine detailed CGI with story and heart then it’s a winning formula. This was well-written and paced.

    Think “Transformers” part one was so good b/c the story had heart and an interesting premise along with top-of-the-line CGI effects; then it’s like the franchise started focusing on the CGI and rushing the story. Now the franchise is a joke.

    Hopefully this Planet of the Apes franchise continues to focus on story and the conclusion is as good as the first two. “Dawn” is definitely one of the best of the year, thus far. I really like the way they’ve taken the time to develop the characters and the apes.

    And It’s so good to finally see Jason Clarke in a leading role; he is a phenomenal actor!! I’d rather him be cast as the new Bruce Wayne/Batman than Ben Affleck.

    • Jason Clarke is one of those actors that quietly does his thing. He was good in Zero Dark Thirty. Was surprised to learn the Australian actor has been working since 1995!

      • garylee828 Says:

        Oh yeah, he’s been in a slew of stuff; he’s just usually not the lead in bigger films, and when he is the lead it’s for smaller films like “Under Still Waters”.

        Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs played brothers on this Showtime series “Brotherhood” that’s good, although I’ve only seen the pilot. Clarke plays a politician running for office, who is seemingly a golden boy, but will do bad things behind-the-scenes to get to where he wants to go, etc. while Isaacs character is basically a career criminal who seems to be bad on teh outside, but does good things behind-the-scenes. It’s pretty complex and with great performers like Clarke and Isaacs playing opposite of one another it’s really fun to watch.

  5. I really have to see this one. I didn’t like Rise, but this sequel seems like it would be a lot better. In fact a lot of the reviews I read don’t seem to acknowledge the fact that Dawn is a sequel.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  6. Good review Mark. It was a very exciting blockbuster that had plenty of heart and emotion just making everything seem all the more epic. And dramatic as well.

  7. Solid review. Just posted my review and we share some of the same thoughts. I do think it has some flaws but still very entertaining.

  8. davecrewe Says:

    Nice review Mark! Agreed with all of this – the CGI and war commentary were both unexpectedly impressive!

  9. I actually read a review on RT that complained about the CGI being mediocre! More than one actually….

    I honestly question their sanity and ask myself why they are allowed to write on such a major website. That is not opinion…that is stupidity!

    • I suppose you can always find somebody with a dissenting opinion about anything, but those people are clearly the minority. Dawn has received universal acclaim.

  10. Hey Mark! Expert analysis as we’ve all come to expect!

    We watched this last night……and we’ve done it again!! Yes, the lads and I were in the peanut gallery! Straight to DVD was the score awarded to this film.

    I thought it was good….but not must see at the theatre good. I didn’t think it was better than “Rise” cinematically or as a movie going experience. Strange I know, despite being a larger production and having greater scope in terms of script & story. I really appreciated the political / social commentary RE: War, but somehow, I found Caesar’s personal journey in “Rise” a lot more compelling.
    This movie dragged a bit, and I was disappointed by the ending. I guess the 3rd one will be titled “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”.

    I disagree with your assertion that the 3rd film at this rate would snag best picture. It seems to me that as with the original films (Heston et al) the quality seems to decrease with each successive film despite having bigger ideas! Do you remember the mind controlling mutant in “Beneath”? I’m calling it now – there will be nukes in part 3!

    Talk soon!

    • As far as 20th Century Fox’s reboot of the Planet of the Apes series that started in 2011, I would say they’re getting better. However I wouldn’t debate your assertion that Rise was superior too strongly, because I thought it was pretty great too.

      The classic 1968 film was followed by four sequels. Those are another matter entirely. Although I’ve never sat down to watch it, I’ve heard 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes is even worse than Tim Burton’s desecration of the material.

  11. The apes are totally believable in this film. It’s easy to forget you’re watching CGI creatures since they’re rendered so realistically and their story is very compelling. I know I forgot that the apes were CG and got lost in the narrative. I think what’s impressive about this film though is that it works on multiple levels, like you discuss in your review. Action fans will be pleased, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface to comment on the nature of war. The hierarchy in the ape culture is fascinating too. Great review Mark.

  12. Outright amazing movie. I was not expecting a thrill like this.

    Top work, sir.

  13. CGI was a Wow! Movie was also a Wow! I had emotional connections with the apes. Story was also very good. I really enjoyed this! 4stars.

  14. Stunning, deep social commentary, incredibly engaging plot with very well developed characters. I was rooting for the apes to overcome their internal conflict in order to avoid bigger one with humans. Deeper than District 9. Best sci FI movie ever-the cgi never got in the way, in fact the plot and drama was so powerful and emotional that I forgot about the cgi.

    Obviously there will be a sequel with the parting shot and this will be the first time I’m earnestly eager for it.

    They need to make movies like this more and skip the formulaic fluff we’ve all seen over and over.

    Incredibly fresh and modern update of the Ape franchise. I’m still sitting here watching credits roll in awe. Shoot even the score is incredibly emotional. The one scene where Koba overtook the tank driver and cinematography gave a 360 view of the chaos – sigh!

    Well done! Standing ovation from me. I’ll remember this one for a long time and will consider this the standard for future cgi sci FI movies.

    I can find no flaws with this one. Although I think it’s hilarious that SF seems to be a popular war ground first for Godzilla and now evolved apes. Lol

    I so completely agree with your review especially in regards to the character development of the ape characters. They were more “humanistic” than the actual humans in the movie I’d dare say.

    • Your comment on Facebook was so eloquent I included it here, I hope that’s ok. What more can I say other than we agree completely. It’s nice when that happens. 😀

  15. Had to bookmark the reviews again. Only just saw the film.

    Great review. The film is an excellent visual and conceptual improvement of the first and that’s impressive in its own right. And Andy Serkis retains his Title as the master of motion capture.

    “Apes. Together. Strong.”

  16. Really liked this movie. Even did a podcast on it.

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