Dawn of The Planet of The Apes – Review

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Posted July 18, 2014 by Guilherme Jacobs in Movies

If you’ve watched any trailer or saw any poster for “Dawn of The Planet of The Apes”, you’ll probably go into theaters thinking it will be an action spectacle, and while there is action and explosions, this sequel is as surprising as 2011’s “Rise of The Planet of The Apes”. It’s not what you expect, it’s better. It’s a movie crowned by amazing production design and one of the most impressive performances of the year. All that plus apes with guns.

Set 10 years after its predecessor, “Dawn” explores a world in which the simian flu has wiped out millions. A group of survivors led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is located in San Francisco and they are rebuilding, but to continue to do so they need something that generates power. Something like a dam, and what do you know there is one near them! Malcom (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell) and Carver (Kirk Acevedo) are tasked to find and fix the dam, but they soon find out it’s located within ape territory. Speaking of apes, they’ve flourished and are so much more advanced. Right from the get go director Matt Reeves shows us how far they’ve come. They use sign language, have hunting techniques, and some of them already speak English. Of course they’re led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), now a father and husband. He allows for a group of humans to work on the dam but things quickly start to go wrong and the tension escalates.

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What surprised me so much about the film is that I went in expecting the humans to be total jerks, led by a somewhat sympathetic villain but that’s not the case. None of the sides are treated as antagonists and that’s actually much more terrifying because we know what’s going to happen, we know this becomes war, hell, it’s a “Planet of The Apes” movie. What the script does so brilliantly is making us care about characters on both sides beyond an understanding level. “Dawn of The Planet of The Apes” is a bomb with a timer, and when it reaches zero violence will spread, but the script keeps us hoping that somehow the conflict is avoided, creating a desperate atmosphere for a tragic and powerful story.

But Reeves keeps pushing the characters forward, leading them down a path of collision and it’s painful, yet satisfying, to see the way he expertly handles it. By the time the action starts we know and care about characters on both sides, so it’s not a bunch of pointless explosions, it’s a personal fight. This is a movie that doesn’t glorify violence, instead presenting is and the lowest point, the worse thing about life, the real disease. Reeves beautifully explores violence and its consequences.

Naturally, Andy Serkis delivers fantastic work here. As good as he was as Gollum in the “Lord of The Rings” trilogy. Serkis is one of the best actors alive and I hope someday the Oscars and other award ceremonies recognize that by at least creating a category to CG characters. Ideally he would run on the standard actor categories though, because what he delivers is acting, very good acting. Serkis is able to transmit so much of the characters through things like facial expressions, while at the same time giving a fantastic weight of importance to each and every line spoken during the movie. It’s one of the most impressive performances of the year and a testament to how great the guy has been this century.

The other apes follow his work. Toby Kebbell plays the angry Koba, one of the most versatile roles on “Dawn”, and his performance is solely based on a horrible past with the humans, which helps us understand some of the questionable decisions his character makes throughout the story. Nick Thurston is a surprise win as Caesar’s son Blue Eyes, and he perfectly captures the inner conflict some of the apes are faced with when it comes to forgiving, or not, the human race for their mistakes.

The humans are not so good. Jason Clarke does a fine job as the lead but Keri Russell lacks depth and variety, her character is extremely one-note but I suspect that’s not her fault as much as it is the script’s. The same goes for Acevedo, who basically keeps the same face throughout the entire film. Gary Oldman, on the other hand, does a lot with the few scenes he’s given. There’s a powerful moment towards the end of act 2 in which he tells us all we need to know about his character and his mission without saying a single word.

Visually, “Dawn of The Planet of The Apes” is stunning. Michael Seresin’s cinematography is a thing of beauty and the way he films closely to the characters helps give the movie a personal tone, but he also rocks on the action scenes and there’s a particular moment, too cool to spoil, when he gives us a 360 degree view of the conflict that is jaw dropping. James Chunlund production design creates two different worlds inside the movie, one filled with loss for the humans and one of ascension for the apes. I love that this movie was filmed in actual sets and forests instead of green screens, because when mixed with the amazing special effects that bring the apes to life it creates a stunning and sad world to look at.

“Dawn of The Planet of The Apes” is one of those movies that proves not all blockbusters are Michael Bay films. It’s not only one of the best films of the year, it’s also one of the best “Planet of The Apes” movies ever. What Matt Reeves and the crew achieve here is a daring accomplishment and I cannot wait to see what he does next in 2016.

 


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Guilherme Jacobs