DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues the saga of nature versus nurture in Matt Reeves’ emotionally charged metaphor of a film.  (JLH <3 /5)

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Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver), opens in a world in which human civilization as we know it has been wiped out by the Simian Flu virus. The lights have literally gone out all around the globe. One group of survivors dwells in the shell of what was once the city of San Francisco, but they have no idea if they are alone.

The surviving humans, genetically immune to the flu virus, are led by “Malcolm,” (Jason Clarke) who tries to convince fellow-leader “Dreyfus” (Gary Oldman) to give him three days to reconcile with the apes for a chance to provide power to the city – only through access to the forest’s hydroelectric dam.

With “Caesar” (Andy Serkis) governing the apes in the forested colony city, he allows Malcolm to work on the generator in exchange for his firearms. The apes bond with Malcolm, his partner “Ellie” (Keri Russell), and Malcolm’s son “Alexander” (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they fix the generator and treat Caesar’s ailing wife with antibiotics.

Meanwhile, “Koba” (Toby Kebbell), a one-time ally and close friend of Caesar, is becoming increasingly hostile towards humans and questions Caesar’s loyalty. Chaos ensues as he tries to take command of the apes and put an end to human existence.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes illustrates that, for every honorable peacemaker, like Caesar (on the ape side) and Malcolm (on the human side), there is a hateful villain who believes war is inevitable. Bomback, Jaffa, and Silver rely heavily on universal themes: trust and loyalty, family and future, and war and peace, all of which lay under the surface of the human vs. ape conflict in the film.

Every important message they try to send, however, is immediately buried underneath CGI explosions and exhaustive gun violence. The 130-minute film offers a plethora of emotion, usually coming from Caesar or Ellie, but for every thoughtful scene there are twice as many with gunshots, ape beatings, and building explosions. While it takes some of the enjoyment away, the violence reinforces the overall message.

Like in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis gives a standout performance. He portrays Caesar as a conflicted, good-hearted ape who is torn between loyalty to his own species versus love for the kind-hearted humans who raised him. Serkis proves how powerful motion-capture performances can be. Serkis, who made a name for himself as “Gollum” in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, portrays Caesar’s emotions through a glance, a facial expression, or a simple hand gesture.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of this summer’s blockbusters, but has more heart than the usual summer tent-pole film. For those uninterested in apes shooting and beating each other in 3D, it might not be worth a $15 ticket, but fans of the franchise will no doubt see Reeves’ version as enjoyable and most importantly, thought-provoking.

Review © Brigid K. Presecky (7/14/14)

Photo: Keri Russell as “Ellie” and Kodi Smit-McPhee as “Alexander.”

Q: Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pass the Bechdel Test?

No.

“Ellie” (the woman played by Keri Russell) never interacts with any female humans and even her interactions with female apes are totally peripheral.

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