Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) (Movie Review)

      After the smashing success of “Rise of the Plant of the Apes”, a sequel seemed unavoidable, but I honestly had no idea if this would be another cash grab sequel or something really special that could surpass the quality of its predecessor. Thankfully, the 2014 sequel titled “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” completely surpassed my mild expectations and turned out to be a really good sequel indeed. It’s not just better than the last film, it’s easily my favorite entry in the whole series and I think it has the potential to go down in film history as one of the great classic Sci-Fi sequels like “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”. This is just another perfect example of how an old and deflated franchise can still stand proud, tall and alive after so many failures.

      The plot of the movie takes some inspiration from the 1973 sequel “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”, but with enough new ideas to make it stand apart. The movie begins with a recap of the events from “Rise of the Plant of the Apes”, regarding the ape rebellion and the virus that’s wiped out most of the planets population. By the way, this opening scene is awesome and helps set the tone with some captivating visuals. Almost a decade has past sense then and now human civilization is completely destroyed following martial law, civil unrest and the economic collapse of every country in the world. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the ape Caesar rules his own peaceful Kingdome where apes have built their own civilization in the wilderness. Not far away is a small town full of surviving humans that need power and electricity to survive. The only thing that can save them is a hydroelectric dam that’s deep within ape territory. A small team of humans go in to make a temporary peace treaty with the apes to restore power to their homes. Caesar agrees to help the humans in the struggle, hoping that in some way this small action can lead into a new area of peace without further bloodshed. As you’d expect, things don’t go well for either party as another ape named Koba betrays Caesar and leads his ape army in a revolt against the humans, which leads into global civil war.   

       Just like its predecessor, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” elevates itself a notch above mindless entertainment. While there’s certainly thrilling action segments, the movie takes it’s time establishing the characters, building tension, and raising deep questions which allow the audience to think just enough while still being very entertained at the excitement of seeing a machine gun wilding ape on a hours charging at a tank. Yes, the action scenes are riveting spectacles, but there’s just enough intelligence and emotional resonance that help balance that out. With all those stupid, over blown and brainless “Transformers” movies that come out all the time, it makes me feel very pleased to see filmmakers but real effort and care into a Sci-Fi blockbuster such as this. The build up in the first half of the movie is fantastic as your dreading a possible war on the horizon, and the story had enough smart twists and turns that kept it from getting too predictable. The effects for the most part are all very impressive, even getting an Oscar nod, but there are some select moments when some things look a little too cartoony, like this one shot of a heard of dear that are being hunted down by the apes. 

       One of the first Things I loved about this movie right off the bat were the apes and their culture. I’m so glad that they weren’t just monsters for the humans to fight, their intellectuals, they have feelings, and they can reason with one another. I also like that they only speak every once in a while, most of the time they speak through sign language, which is great. Honestly, I could watch these ape characters all day in their civilization and be perfectly satisfied. Of course Andy Serkis returns in the lead role of Caesar and delivers another Oscar worthy performance, even though he’s a motion capture actor. The character of Caesar has never been more awesome then in this movie. Every time Caesar’s on screen he just commands your attention, and personally I think he belongs among some of the great iconic Sci-Fi characters like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator or Peter Weller’s “Robocop”. 

     The human characters are all good too, even though there admittedly less memorable then many of the other human characters from the series. Never the less, the actors give solid performances, the humans have great chemistry with the apes and the main human character named Malcolm is compelling enough to care for. Garry Oldman plays the leader of the human survival group, and once again, I’m so glad the writers didn’t make him the stereotypical human bad guy. This is a character we actually get to feel sympathy for, and he’s compassionate enough to take a peaceful wrought before resorting to violent actions against the apes. Even though Garry Oldman’s part in the movie is small, he still plays it like he’s trying to win an Oscar.

     Even the villain ape named Koba is really good, and easily the best villain of the whole series. This character was featured back in “Rise of the Plant of the Apes” as a victim on scientific experiments, and now he’s out for vengeance. While he’s a monstrous beast that dose awful things, his motivations are perfectly understandable. It doesn’t excuse his actions, but at least he isn’t a one note bad guy the same way General Thade was in the 2001 “Planet of the Apes” remake. At the climax of the film, Koba challenges Caesar to a dual for leadership of all the apes, and it’s a riveting finally.      

     Overall, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a fantastic follow up to its predecessor, and even surpasses it with a consistently engaging premise, lots of high stake action and fantastic characters ... both human and ape alike. It’s also very refreshing that this film doesn’t lose itself with one too many nods to the original the same way the previous movies have. It’s a sequel that can stand on its own, and just like the original “Planet of the Apes” movie, it can easily stand the test of time as an ambitious, yet deeply exciting Sci-Fi achievement.     

I give “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” a strong 4 ½ stars out of 5. 

The End

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