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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.11.14] post apocalyptic action thriller

When the first trailer for Rise of the Planet of the Apes appeared three years ago, the comments broke into a surprise discussion of how Tim Burton's attempt to reboot the franchise with Mark Wahlberg wasn't such a terrible thing. It seemed that a lot of the dislike of the trailer for the second reboot attempt went back to the casting of James Franco who, around these parts at least, isn't exactly as well revered as in other circles so when faced with Franco, the thing to do was go back to the thing that wasn't so bad. It's not clear how our readers reacted after seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes but for my tastes, Rupert Wyatt made an interesting and entertaining movie that, by virtue of the subject matter, also happened to be a little smarter than the average summer blockbuster.

I'd nearly forgotten that the sequel was in the works for release this year until a trailer for the Matt Reeves directed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes appeared and forced everyone to take note. It didn't look like Reeves was messing around but it remained to be seen if he could deliver on the promise of that trailer and truth be told, the director that has yet to misfire continues his hot streak with what is quite likely the best of the summer movies (and certainly the best of the summer movies so far).

Under the guidance of Caesar (Andy Serkis), a growing community of apes have created a home for themselves in the outlying forest of San Francisco. The city, and most of the world, was wiped out by a virus ten years before and Caesar and his brethren haven't seen a human in two years. Just as they begin to assume that all of humanity has disappeared, a group of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), enter ape territory wanting access to a nearby damn in order to restore electricity to the city and begin rebuilding human society. There's a confrontation between the two groups and while they eventually come to an agreement, it's clearly foreshadowed that this amicable working relationship will be short lived and that all will not end well.

It's a familiar story of not trusting what you don't understand but Reeves is accustomed to taking the familiar and making it extraordinary and he has done that with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It has a mix of artistry and brains that will appeal to most: those looking for an action packed evening at the movies and those more interested in the subtleties of story. The opening scene outlines the spread of the virus in an oft misused style which is rather effectively employed here and while the movie touches on the story of the humans, this is very much the ape story and Reeves never loses sight of that. Another filmmaker may have gone down the route of flash backs to flush out the fall of humanity which comes up in passing on more than one occasion but Reeves and the writing team ignore that easy opening and stay focused on the story at hand.

The story that unfolds is exactly what you would expect it to be but technology has made the telling of it a new experience and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes full advantage of mocap while also pushing the envelope. While the ape-on-ape action still feels a bit strange (it's a mix of uncanny valley effect and strange looking proportions), the facial effects are outstanding and allow the artists to emote beautifully. Caesar and the other apes have never looked this real and while part of the success of the performances is the physicality, there's something to be said for being able to see the subtle shifts and twitches of facial muscles. It makes for a movie that is surprisingly emotional and it succeeds because the actors, the effects and the storytelling are effectively balanced and incorporated.

It's not perfect. Some of the musical queues are a little overwrought (I generally like Michael Giacchino's scores but subtlety is not in his vocabulary) and the second act is a little long in the tooth but overall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is pretty much the perfect summer movie. It features great spectacle and marries it with great characterization and storytelling to deliver a fully immersive package that rarely falters. From the opening hunt sequence to the final showdown in San Francisco, Reeves delivers a beautiful looking movie that is playful, emotionally engaging and in every way superior to its predecessor.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens Friday, July 11.

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Koolz (7 years ago) Reply

The only Planet of the Apes that is good is the first one. The rest of these are an horrible, stupid scripts, lack of intelligence. Scifi is becoming dumb for people with the attention span of a worm.
One can blame HollyWood for this.


Lenny (7 years ago) Reply

Agreed. Fave movie of this summer (till GotG comes out). Methinks Koolz might wanna actually see this flick before bashing it.


Marina (7 years ago) Reply

Happy to hear someone else around these parts is excited for GotG!


Koolz (7 years ago) Reply

might go see it. But isn't to impressed with New Scifi films now. he liked Prometheus but even that had some silly elements. I like the old Planet of the Apes.

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