Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Screenwriters: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 | 130 Minutes
Release Date: July 11, 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is to Rise of the Planet of the Apes what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. An incredible, awe-inspiring epic; a monumental achievement in genre filmmaking and one of the year’s very best films.
Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), the film begins with a montage of news reports showing the collapse of human civilization in the wake of the ALZ-113 virus. Ten years after the “Simian Flu” epidemic, Caesar (Andy Serkis) governs a growing nation of genetically enhanced apes in the Muir Woods. With his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and son River (Nick Thurston), Caesar has established a thriving community for his species – one free of human interference.
That is, until the humans show up. Led by good-hearted Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and the sympathetic Ellie (Kerri Russell), they’ve been sent by their fellow survivors in post-apocalyptic San Francisco to find and repair a hydroelectric dam. In the forest they encounter Caesar and his tribe of intelligent apes, who communicate in sign language and broken English. The apes are equally surprised to discover humans, who they assumed had died out after many winters without power.
The two groups reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived. Malcolm reports his findings to Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the city’s leader, who begins stockpiling weapons for an attack. In the ape camp, the ruthless Koba (Toby Kebbell) believes his leader is too affectionate towards humans. As a result, both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent, poignant story of humanity and conflict – an emotionally demanding film that works both as allegory and action-adventure. The script by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback urges empathy and compassion while showing what violence does to communities when we rush to war.
While Reeves has crafted some exhilarating action sequences, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the rare blockbuster where you’re actively rooting against the action because you care about the characters so much. You desperately want these two tribes to find a diplomatic solution, and you’re so disappointed when characters, ape and human alike, make knee-jerk reactions that cost lives.
As Caesar, Andy Serkis delivers a powerful and nuanced motion-capture performance. He’s playing a far more complex and intense version of the character this time around. Caesar has matured into a wise and patient leader, and Serkis’ brilliant performance effortlessly conveys Caesar’s growth and the responsibilities that weigh heavy on him.
Just as impressive are the motion-capture performances of Kebbel’s Koba and Karin Konoval, who reprises her role as Maurice the orangutan. Between the three of them, I would gladly watch an entire Apes film without human characters – they’re that compelling.
These masterful mo-cap performances are fully realized thanks to the most incredible special effects I’ve ever seen in a film. That’s not hyperbole. Look, we all know the benchmarks for advancements in computer effects: Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, The Star Wars prequels, Avatar, Gravity – but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a true game-changer when it comes to blurring the line between what’s real and what’s computer-generated.
These characters and the post-apocalyptic world they inhabit are so richly imagined – so convincingly portrayed – that you’re entirely invested in the story from the moment Caesar appears on screen. Another big part of the enjoyment factor of Reeves’ film is the score by Michael Giacchino. Best known for his work on Lost, Ratatouille, Up, and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films, Giacchino delivers an exciting, adventurous orchestration in the spirit of Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original 1968 Apes film.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the most entertaining summer blockbuster in years, and one of the best films of 2014. Reeves effortlessly balances substance and spectacle, blending thrilling action with thoughtful allegory, and making for one of the most engrossing pieces of genre filmmaking I’ve ever seen.
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