Dee Discusses: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Posted: July 26, 2014 by Dee in Dee, Movies, New Movies, Reviews
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There will be spoilers in this review.

So here’s the deal: I love the Planet of the Apes franchise. Not just the original, oh no, I love all five of the series. A lot of people have no idea there were four sequels to that famous film, and it makes me sad, because I think the last two are better than the first. The others were going back in the timeline and showing us how the apes took over the planet. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, I was delighted, because it was focusing more on the latter movies. I think it surprised all those people who hadn’t seen the other movies, because they thought it was a new concept entirely. I loved the story of Caesar in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and his rise to power, and that’s what this movie was really about. I thought Rise was excellent, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes took this to a new level. And I am endlessly impressed with it. Luckily, audiences and critics seem to be equally impressed, so there is a very good chance the next film is guaranteed. If you can find copies of the old movies, I highly recommend them. But now to the new one.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place ten years after Rise, when the ALZ-113 virus has swiped through humanity and killed the majority of it. Remember that this virus was made in the first movie when main character Will Rodman was trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. Caesar was born to a mother already experimented on, so he naturally had better intelligence and skills than most apes. Eventually his intelligence was on par with humanity and then past it. At the end of Rise, he infected (or saved) the other apes with the ALZ-113 and led them to Muir Woods where they could live peacefully on their own. Caesar has started a family and the apes are doing very well in their new home. They’ve all developed their intelligence, capable of speaking (although most do not), and tend to sign instead. Returning apes include Maurice, kind and pensive, and Koba, furious and violent. He was experimented on harshly by the humans.

Caesar’s son Blue Eyes runs into a pack of humans unexpectedly, and his friend Ash gets shot. The apes confront the humans, including their de facto leader Malcolm, and chase them out. He realizes up front that Caesar is special, especially when he speaks to them, yelling GO. Koba wants to attack the humans, who have made a new colony out of a former nuclear plant in San Francisco. Caesar does confront them and tells them to stay out of the woods. However, the colony needs access to a dam in the woods to keep electricity, something they desperately need. Malcolm goes back to the woods and desperately begs them to let his team look at the dam. This starts the main drama in the movie, and it’s fascinating, because you understand each side well. The humans are desperate to stay alive, and Malcolm believes peace can happen, while leader Dreyfus believes they have to fight to survive. Caesar wants peace as an option, to protect the home they’ve created and to show mercy, while Koba believes it’ll only make the humans stronger and they’ll turn on them eventually. The tension in this movie is excellent because you know there is no possible way this can go well, and you understand why.

Malcolm and Caesar do manage briefly to make peace, and the dam gets fixed, causing delight from everyone. But Koba’s rising fury about working with the humans is uncontrollable, and he thinks he’s proven right when the humans are stockpiling weapons. Koba decides to take matters into his own hand and shoots Caesar, blaming the humans for it, leading to a revolution and vicious attack on the town. Caesar survives and Malcolm takes him to his old house, where he heals. His son Blue Eyes helped the original fight, believing in Koba, but after seeing Koba’s cruelty and murder of his friend Ash for speaking out, he realizes what a mistake he made. Caesar heals and with Malcolm’s help gets into the city to confront Koba. Malcolm has to confront Dreyfus too, who plans on blowing up the tower where all the apes are. Unfortunately they have already made contact with the army, meaning a war is coming no matter what. The tower is blown, Koba is defeated, and Caesar acknowledges that there is no chance for peace now. He allows Malcolm and his friends to leave while they can, and prepares his people for what is coming ahead.

First off, Andy Serkis, how do you exist? I’m going to straight out say he is one of the best actors in the world, and it is a crime they haven’t found an official way to acknowledge him for it. Then again, does he need awards? He does extremely well for himself, and he’s paved the way for the motion capture CGI that is getting bigger with every year. His performance of Caesar is incredible. All the apes are great, combining emotion and intelligence with legitimate ape-like movements and sounds. When I think of how much work those actors had to do, being aware both of how they perform and move for the cameras, it’s downright incredible. The apes are the real stars of this movie. Malcolm is played by Jason Clarke, who I don’t know well. He’s passable, and Keri Russell co-stars as his girlfriend and resident doctor Ellie. Gary Oldman plays Dreyfus. All the acting is solid, thought-provoking, and believable. There’s this scene where Oldman sees his dead family for the first time in years on his iPad and he just breaks down sobbing. It’s heart wrenching and really sells the awfulness of surviving this type of plague in the world.

This movie transcends the genre, in my opinion. This isn’t just a good science fiction film, this is a great film in general. It has excellent script, acting, and avoids tropes in an amazing way. You know the war is inevitable, but what I think is impressive is how you understand all sides. Koba is the villain, but you know why he’s doing it, and even sympathize a little with his past. He was traumatized and tortured, and he can’t get past his hate. He genuinely thinks what he’s doing is right. So does everyone. It leaves a lasting impact. It’s emotional and poignant. My one and only complaint would be the lack of female characters. Ellie’s a good character, although I think she does fall into the common trope as the maternal love interest doctor. The only other woman in the movie is Caesar’s wife, who has maybe one line and exists to give childbirth. Come on, with all these many apes and characters, you couldn’t throw in some more representation? For speaking roles, you have Malcolm, Dreyfus, Caesar, Blue Eyes, Ash, Rocket, Maurice, Koba, Malcolm’s son Alexander, the “bad human” Carver, and the other members of the dam group Kemp and Werner, plus those two gun guards, Koba’s followers, annnnnd Ellie. That’s it. Fifteen or so speaking male roles, and only one woman? I’m just saying.

Who knew a story about genetically altered apes could become one of the best movies of the year? (Me. I knew. Because of the originals.) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes highly recommended.

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