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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

What He said:

He

Just to get this out of the way, this movie is a sequel to Rise of The Planet of the Apes (review here), which is not, I repeat not, affiliated in any way to the old Charlton Heston movie (or any of its sequels). The 2011 movie was a reboot of the franchise. Much like the most recent version of Battlestar Galactica, this movie took the basic premise and theme of the old movie, but tells its own new and independent story. There is no connection between these new Apes films and the old ones. I just had somebody ask me if this was a prequel to the Heston movie, so I had to get that off my chest.

At the end of the previous movie, a group of apes that acquired human-level intelligence, due to their exposure to the ALZ-113 virus, managed to escape from their human captors and take refuge in the redwood forest in San Francisco, CA. In the months following that, there was a viral outbreak. ALZ-113 makes apes smarter, but it’s fatal to humans.

A decade has passed between the events of that movie and the beginning of this one. Society has crumbled. Many people were wiped out by the virus. Chaos broke out and there was fighting amongst mankind. Many more people died as a result of the fighting, even if they did manage to survive the outbreak. There are survivors, but they live in a post-apocalyptic society and they are running out of resources. They are down to a matter of weeks before they run out of gasoline and fear what happens when they do.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Apes meanwhile have been thriving in the wilderness. Their population is growing, they have built their own community, and pretty much own the forest that surrounds them. That is, until, a group of humans show up in the forest one day while the apes are out hunting.
This small group of humans is on a mission to gain access to a hydroelectric dam, which they hope to use to restore power to the ragtag community they have built. The dam is in the woods near the ape village. The human city is running out of power and is hoping to harness a more replenishable resource – water – to power their city. Unfortunately for them, Caesar, the ape in charge, tells them to take a hike after there is a minor conflict between an ape and human.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the chimpanzee who led the apes to their freedom in the previous movie. He has since become the unquestioned leader of their flourishing society. He has a wife and two sons. One of his sons is a newborn and the other is a young, but physically mature, chimp named Blue Eyes. 

The recent encounter with the humans was the first in two years. This run in – as well as the relationship between Caesar, Blue Eyes, and his most trusted solider (a bonobo named Koba) – will be key to the events of the rest of the movie. Like many fathers and sons, Caesar and Blue Eyes relationship is slightly strained. It’s safe to say that Blue Eyes feels the pressure of being the son of the leader of their group. Caesar is not really hard on his son at all to be honest, his son just seems to be rather insecure. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be a great hunter and leader and takes every failure to heart. Koba (Tobey Kebbel) is often there to offer support to Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) when he feels he failed his father. He also talks up Caesar greatly, hoping to serve as a mediator between the two of them.  Koba is one of the original apes who were freed by Caesar in the first movie and very loyal to Caesar…for now at least.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This incident with the humans has reignited a deep hatred inside Koba.  Koba was a test subject most of his life. He was subjected to years of cruel experiments. As a result, he has nothing but hatred for humanity. This isn’t really a problem until now, because humans and apes had no interacted for the last several years. But now that he knows they are still out there, Koba feels threatened. He wants to attack the human city and send them into extinction. He becomes completely obsessed with the idea and will go to unspeakable lengths to carry out his beliefs.

This is not Caesar’s style at all. He marches his troops to the human city and says they do not want a war, but will defend themselves if necessary. He warns the humans to stay in the city and never return to the forest again. This greatly bothers Koba. He was angry enough that Caesar allowed the humans from the encounter earlier to live, but to march into the human city to merely warn them is weak in his opinion.

The humans can’t really afford to give up though. They are on the verge of running out of resources and fear that chaos and violence will return again if they don’t find a solution. They are determined to make sure that never happens again.
The humans are led by two men: Malcom (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). They seem to genuinely run the human city together. They always consult with one another before acting. Dreyfus is afraid of the apes, but knows they can’t survive if they don’t get that damn operational. Malcom is also aware of this, but he’s not willing to attack the apes because of it. Malcom views the apes as equals, Dreyfus thinks they are “just animals” and if they have to be wiped out so that humanity can survive, so be it.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Malcom convinces Dreyfus to try and talk to Caesar. He takes a group up to the forest to talk to Caesar and show him what it is they want to do with the damn. He’s also hopeful to create some peace between the two groups, because there are many people who blame apes for the viral outbreak, and the apes also don’t have fond feelings towards humans either. The group consists of a few soldiers, one of which was involved in the initial conflict, his son, and his new wife. Despite some tension – that one guy can’t stop causing trouble – the apes understand what it is the humans want, even begin to help them, and a trust between the two camps is formed.

This is strike number three for crazy old Koba. He cannot stomach that fact that Caesar is helping humans. When I said earlier that he has nothing but hatred for humanity, I was not exaggerating. He hates all humans for what his captors did to him. He views them all as violent oppressors. It is at this point that Koba hatches a plan that will ignite a brutal conflict between the two species.

In case you haven’t picked up on it, this isn’t exactly a black and white situation. This isn’t good vs. bad or even one side vs the other. There is a whole lot of grey in this picture. Both sides have problems with the other, as well as conflict within their own group. Both sides have factions that are willing to work with the other side too.

Malcom and Caesar are at the center of this fragile partnership. Malcom, his wife (Keri Russell), and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are all reasonable people. They aren’t prejudiced the way Carver (the human responsible for the conflict) is towards the apes. They don’t hate apes just because they are apes. They also recognize that some of their own are assholes. Caesar is the same way because of his relationship with Will (James Franco) and his father (John Lithgow) from the first movie. Unlike Koba, he knows that humanity, like the ape civilization, has its good and bad. And boy is he going to learn that as Koba unleashes his fury. The chemistry between Jason Clarke (Malcom) and Andy Serkis (Caesar) is excellent. Watching the relationship between these two characters grow had a very strong sense of realness to it. There was a genuine bond here and it felt very natural. That would not have been possible without two strong performances. If even one felt  out of place, it wouldn’t have worked.

The other two major players as far as this war is concerned are Koba and Dreyfus. What can be said about Koba? He is an animal and I’m not talking about that in the literal sense. The character is a complete and total monster once he sets his plan in motion. He is filled with so much hate and it manifests itself in such a ruthless way that I’m not sure my words can do the character justice. He is one of the meanest and most brutal villains I’ve ever seen. He is Caesar’s exact opposite. I thought he was a great villain to Caesar’s hero and I give Tobey Kebbel a tremendous amount of credit for bringing character to life. I love that this has been hinted at as far back as the previous movie to. That’s smart writing.
I liked everything about this movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The effects are fantastic. Aside from a few scenes, there always seems to bit a few that look shoddy, the apes looked fantastic; especially when they zoomed in on their faces. The motion capture in this movie is a great example of how digitally created characters and real acting can be combined. Andy Serkis has perfected this art form and whenever I hear he’s involved in something, I now get excited. He’s great, but doesn’t overshadow the other ape characters either. All involved went to great lengths to bring these digital characters to life.

This is also an excellent science fiction movie. People who are not familiar with or fans of the genre simply think it’s about robots, aliens, time travel, or in this case talking apes. While these things, as well as many others, are present in science fiction, the backbone of good science fiction is its ability to examine real world issues. Racial tension, cultural differences, and environmental issues are all big themes in this movie. That’s what I love about the genre; it’s a combination of the real world with the fantastical.

I thought this movie also did a great job at portraying a gritty and brutal post-apocalyptic world. The virus killed most of the human population. Those who survived did not have it easy. A lack of resources, fighting amongst themselves, and a group of intelligent apes carrying automatic weapons are some of the things they have to face after the virus dies off. You could already tell at the beginning of the movie times were tough, but when Koba riles some of the apes to go to war, it is extremely brutal. The concept of a bunch of apes charging a city, all while on horseback and carrying guns, sounds ridiculous. But the execution is what makes it realistic. The main battle was so mind-blowingly brutal and believable that it only helped strengthened the credibility of the story. You know this is not possible, but if you do not get caught up in the moment while watching this, you might not have a pulse.

I just saw this over the weekend and I already can’t wait for the next one.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on July 15, 2014.

 

 

What She said:

She

I think we're all in agreement the world will never get tired of Planet of the Apes movies.  I mean, if we were going to fatigue to the concept of an earth overrun by intelligent primates, I think that we would have done so by now.  The He and I made a trek out last weekend, while on vacation mind you, to contribute to the box office success of this latest installation of the series Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The He really liked the first of this newest collection of movies, and so he was excited to see this sequel.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it's been roughly a decade since a rogue illness threatened to wipe out all of humanity, while enabling experimental, and highly intelligent, apes to instead take over.  The ape society is gaining some traction.  They communicate mostly via sign language, but many are now capable of speaking, forming words and sentences.  Caesar is now in charge of a clan of hundreds, and they have an active and organized colony out in the woods.  The film actually opens from their perspective.  We learn that the apes believe that the humans are now nearly extinct, and none have been spotted in quite some time.

As if on cue, a few humans pop up, and there is immediately trouble brewing.  Misunderstanding leads to an ape being shot.  The two sides--human and ape--clearly do not relate to each other, and the primates are hesitant to help the humans, who are in need of a dam on their property so that they can make hydroelectric power to bring light back to their city.  Caesar is more sympathetic to the human's needs, but many of the others don't want to help at all.  They're much more partial to the idea of fighting and eliminating the humans, because they flat out don't trust them.  And the truth is that not all humans can be trusted.  But as we learn, it goes both ways, because not all apes can be trusted as well.

As tensions between the two groups come to a head, Caesar must decide where his true allegiances lie.  Should he side with the apes or the humans?  Is there still room for a human civilization?  War seems inevitable, unless man- and ape-kind can learn to understand each other better.

If you're a fan of high-action and drama, you'll probably like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  There's plenty of tension and fighting between the humans and the apes.  I think of greatest value here is the overall message.  The film shows how easy it is for individuals to become prejudiced toward each other, and how misconceptions can lead to unwarranted violence.  It also teaches us that you cannot judge a book by it's cover.  Ape, human, or otherwise, bad is bad, and it affects all of us, regardless of background. There is evil within all civilizations, even if the elitist within us likes to pretend as though we are unaffected.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Visually, I thought the film was quite good.  The lights and darks of the imagery is effective in setting the mood and adding to the tension we see on screen.  The apes in this film are all CGI, and the movie makers clearly devoted ample time and budget to ensuring their authenticity.  Of course, CGI isn't perfect, and there were certainly a few moments when I didn't think that the primates looked convincingly real, but overall I was satisfied.  I think they did look very good during extreme close-ups.  A strong emphasis was put on giving Caesar and his family members very human-like eyes, and they stood out when the camera really zoomed in.  Even though they were CGI, care was given to show the must subtle detail, including the reflection of light off an eye. 

The acting in the movie was satisfactory, at least of the human side of things.  Jason Clarke was solid and likable as Malcolm, the leader of a small band of humans seeking help.  Gary Oldman, while not a huge presence in the film, was also good, as always.  He has a definite strength at playing emotionally charged characters.  Keri Russell was also present, playing Ellie, a nurse and Malcolm's lover.  I didn't find her to be a high-impact player, but she was decent enough.

On the ape side of things, Andy Serkis did a good job of handling the motion capture for Caesar.  The character was introspective, and yet a powerful leader.  I was slightly bothered by Koba, Caesar's second in command.  Yeah, he was a bad guy and that's reason enough to dislike the fella, but I also didn't like how loud, yelly, and manic he was.  Koba was actually a bit too larger than life.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was not perfect.  The story is quite simple, and at times it can feel slightly mundane, but it's also not a bad entry into the summer action genre.  I'm curious to see where they go next with the series.  There's still so much potential, as writers bridge the gap between an Earth ruled by man and one ruled by apes.

Thumbs up.

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