Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

…written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffra, and Amanda Silver; directed by Matt Reeves; starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Toby Kebbell.  And some really good CGI guys…

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the better sci-fi dramas we’ve seen lately.  Set in a post-infectious disease event world, with the vast majority of humans having succumbed to the simian virus in the previous movie, the film rightly begins with the apes.  They are, after all, the stars of this show.

Caesar (Serkis) and the other apes have built a thriving hunter-gatherer civilization outside the ruins of San Francisco – and we quickly learn they have language (written, spoken, and sign), specialized roles, laws, and yes, politics.  They’ve seen no humans in years (and are happy about this) when a human blunders into an ape hunting party and promptly shoots one of the apes.

Turns out, the survivors of San Francisco are running low on fossil fuels, so they’ve traveled out to the apes’ forests in an attempt to get the old hydroelectric dam working.  But Caesar’s having none of it.  He rallies the apes, who converge upon the humans and let them know they need to stay in the city and leave the forest to the apes.

It’s not that simple, of course.  The humans need power.  Malcolm (Clarke) and Ellie (Russell) – part of the first expedition – follow the apes back in an attempt to negotiate.  Meanwhile, Dreyfus (Oldman) only sees a threat – the damn dirty apes – and begins mobilizing his militia and training up for war.  But he’s not the only one.  Caesar’s right hand, Koba (Kebbell), remembers his time in the human labs all too well.  He doesn’t want to trust them, and he certainly can’t abide Caesar’s grudging truce with Malcolm and Ellie to restore the power.

A war is brewing, of course.  Too much mistrust.  The scene is set for some very memorable scenes and set-pieces, some surprises and twists, and some very human drama.

Watching the performance of the apes, you almost feel like it’s not fair to the actor’s guild.  The FX guys have designed these apes to perfectly represent their characters.  Casear is as regal as Chuck Heston on one hand, as fierce and taciturn as Eastwood the next.  Caesar’s conflicted son, Blue Eyes is the personification of a sensitive youth, while Koba is violent and terrifying.  The human actors, no slouches themselves, really convey the sadness of surviving an epidemic with a 99.5% mortality rate.  Everyone left has lost the majority of those close to them, and the director includes those scenes and makes them count.

It adds up to a very fine cinematic experience.  Questioning humanity’s baser attributes and tendencies, highlighting our deficiencies  – this isn’t a feel good movie by any means.  But it is a very good movie.


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