Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Review #1,059

Director:  Matt Reeves
Cast:  Gary OldmanKeri RussellAndy Serkis
Plot:  A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.  They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

Genre:  Action / Drama / Sci-Fi
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Visual Effects
Runtime:  130min
Rating:  PG13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

“I don't take orders from monkeys!”

It might go down as possibly the best ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie ever, but I think it is too soon to judge.  And it is always crucial to have an appreciation of where it has come from since Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 effort Planet of the Apes, which I personally feel has yet to be matched, let alone eclipsed by the contemporary ones. 

Matt Reeves, the director of Cloverfield (2008) and Let Me In (2010), takes up the reins from Rupert Wyatt who helmed the first installment Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), showing no lack of inconsistency and perhaps even expanding on the unique potential of the franchise to illuminate on what makes us human. 

Starring Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) as Malcolm, whose pacifist ideals are critical to preventing an all-out war between the human race and the apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes occurs at a juncture of the story when much of the humanity is almost certain of being wiped out by a global virus. 

The humans create a safe zone while the apes create theirs, until some humans led by Malcolm happen to unknowingly trespass ape territory, and we have an exciting movie that unfolds with a fine balance of drama and action.  It is a movie striving to be an epic showdown between humans and apes, and proving itself in the process, while at the same time reminding us that the world that it portrays is not dissimilar to the world we reside in. 

Hate and prejudice are painfully real, whereas understanding and empathy are fantasies violently brushed aside by those who only live to hate.  There are such people in this world like Koba, the movie’s hateful ape, and we know who they are.  But do we also hate them?  That is the most troubling question of all.

On another note, the outstanding effects work here and motion capture technology used is a sight to behold, but beneath its technical excellence is a skillful depiction of ape-human relational dynamics, the kind that previously marked Schaffner’s film as one of dramatic and existential substance.

In Dawn, it may not have as much thought-provoking material; rather it expounds on the dramatic tension between two species in ways that recall a sort of back-to-basics storytelling, which is both a strength and liability – the storytelling is solid yet unremarkable. 

It follows the template of nearly every other movie about two warring tribes, so at times it appears that certain scenes meant to rake up the stakes on both sides may end up feeling perfunctory and a process we need to get through.  This is why I am not inclining to give Dawn 4 stars, even if it well-deserving. 

However, I must say that despite this, its storytelling is commendably executed, and you will have a blast at the theater.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is touching and thrilling at the same time, and one of the few blockbusters you ought not to miss on the big screen.  It also has one of the most exquisite  openings to a big-budgeted movie in recent years. 

Verdict:  Its back-to-basics storytelling underpins what is a commendable execution of ape-human relational dynamics and action.


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