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“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” – Review (SO-SO POSITIVE)

July 11, 2014

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 2.00.26 PMLet me first say I LOVE where this rebooted series of “Planet of the Apes” is heading, ever since “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, a new origin story regarding the beginnings of intelligent apes coming to be. Forget the nonsensical time travel ploy of “Escape from Planet of the Apes”, though to be fair that’s the best sequel in the original canon, but the ambitious device that man is responsible for his own mistakes adds interesting catharsis. Too bad man in these films isn’t that interesting.

Set 10 years after “Rise”, Caesar (Andy Serkis) has fully established a community filled with his ape brothers and sisters. Family and bondage are crucial elements to maintain peace in their own society. The cardinal rule of ‘apes don’t kill apes’ has become part of their own peaceful mantra. Just when Caesar has believed at no humans are left, a group of survivors cross paths into Caesar’s world; friction has started, trust becomes black-and-white, and all out war between man and ape is imminent.

As good as “Dawn” looked and felt, it’s biggest problem is the lack of character development, clichéd character depictions, or overall bland performances coming from the human counterparts. Jason Clarke’s Malcolm was quite frankly a very cookie cutter protagonist, in which many of the events that occur seemed to be given to him on a silver platter of pure convenience. There’s rarely a challenge he cannot NOT figure his way out of. Not to mention the movie has the A-typical girlfriend character whose only contribution to the film is the ‘I’m here for you’-isms.

However, there is ONE human character that’s interesting, leaves you with an impression of pure empathy, and that’s Gary Oldman’s character, Dreyfus. His character’s (and one of the ape characters) moral actions are completely justified for all the right reasons. I was going in expecting his character to be this one note villain, at least that’s how the trailers depict him, but instead he’s simply a man who cares, a man who’s left completely in the dark, and a man that you can feel for in this dystopian future he’s trapped in. Quite frankly, I was wondering why Oldman’s character wasn’t the main human focus of the film.

Having said that, the films strength comes from the apes, and lets be real, that’s why we’re seeing the movie, never mind that it’s all in the title, these ape characters are fascinating. The character arc between the main three from “Rise”; Caesar, Maurice (Karin Konoval), & Koba (Toby Kobell). Koba especially, this is an ape that’s seen the negative lengths humans are capable of. Thanks to Caesar freeing him from the previous film, Koba’s debt to Caesar should in fact be just, that is until he sees that Caesar still cares for humans. A power struggle and a moral issue of siding with the proper leader intersect between the three wise apes.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 2.00.19 PMOn a visual FX scale this was caviar, WETA continues to push the envelope with the technology, finding new ways to bring real emotion in the mocap technology. Serkis gives a powerhouse performance as Caesar, and continues to leave you asking the same questions we’ve been asking since “Lord of the Rings”, when will Andy get his Oscar due? Is the Academy ready to recognize mocap performance as true acting? Or as the SFX community continues to bark out, it’s nothing more than digital make-up.

Nevertheless, “Dawn” does manage to hit some fair notes, mostly from the ape’s side, though the drawl plotting from the humans keeps it down from being hailed as the sci-fi masterpiece many are hoping (or even saying) it is. Still, I was entertained, and it’s heart pounding final ACT makes up for almost everything else in the beginning.

GRADE: B

Special Thanks to Gabby Levesque & Taylor Rabow for attending the screening and sharing their input.

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