Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Three years after Fox rebooted the Planet of the Apes franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we are getting Dawn of the Plant of the Apes. Dawn is superior movie to Rise, and what I wish Rise had been in the first place.
The plot centers on San Francisco and what happened to the area in the 10 years since Rise. Simian flu has wiped out most of the humans on the planet, and some remaining humans have built a little colony in San Francisco. The apes meanwhile, have made their home in the woods could care less about humans. Then they bump into each other and all hell breaks loose over the next two hours.
Dawn is a simple movie at heart, and maybe the simplest of the Ape movies as there is little exposition needed. We know how apes are evolving from the first movie and that the human race is dwindling due to the well used opening credits (a lost art in Hollywood these days). The weaknesses in the plot rear their ugly head early as the main conflict is condensed into two characters: Carver the human (Kirk Acevedo) and Koba the ape (Toby Kebbell). Hinging the entire plots catalyst on two characters is lazy writing and doesn’t give the weight that a conflict like this deserves. Having some small threads of speciesism in the rest of the humans and then have their thoughts about the apes be proven wrong would have flowed more and made the subsequent conflict more engaging. The apes have some hesitations for the humans throughout the movie which keeps the plot from falling apart later.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a long movie. Pacing doesn’t become an issue though until the end of the movie when subplots are brought it in to fill dead space. I didn’t feel the need to check my cell phone during the movie until about the 1 hour 45 minutes mark when most of the action has taken place and we are just waiting on the ending. But when Dawn has your attention, you can’t look away. There is an even amount of time spent on the colony in San Francisco, the apes, and the humans and I never wondered why we hadn’t seen a specific plot thread in a while. A few threads could have been cut to make this a brisker movie, such as the superfluous human subplots. Malcolm’s (Jason Clarke) interaction with the apes and wanting to coexist with them is enough to drive the human element of the movie.
One of Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ weaknesses was the script. It was often dull and lacked any real emotion. Considering most of the dialogue in Dawn is “ape no kill ape,” it’s ironic that the script superior to Rise. The ape dialogue is often stunted, but the ever growing inclusion of speaking apes instead of sign language showcased how much the apes have evolved in the 10 years since the first movie. Even with The human dialogue has vastly improved and I found myself actually liking the human leads. Well, really just Malcolm, the only human who gets character development. The rest of the humans, Gary Oldman included, have little or nothing to do for most of the movie. Not necessarily a bad thing as we get to focus on the ape/human relations, but wanting the audience to suddenly care about these characters late in the movie causes issues when we could care less if they live or die.
The special effects are simply astonishing. The line between practical effects and CGI was very blurred throughout Dawn. I found myself saying, “Well that has to be an ape suit,” and finding out later that I was quite wrong. The late action sequence looks beautiful and decent in 3D (I was forced to see it this way). The level of detail on the hair, added with it constantly raining, made the effects that much more impressive. While a marvelous work of CGI, the monkey double wielding machine guns on a horse going through fire broke the illusion a bit. What was a tense moment now had the audience laughing and sets the wrong tone for the end of the movie. But hey, it’s a monkey on a horse holding two machine guns jumping through fire. It might be the most badass thing of the summer.
Michael Giacchino (composer for the Star Trek reboot movies and LOST) composes a bombastic soundtrack. He starts the score of softly, but as the apes slowly take over the drums and brass pick up. While some weren’t a fan of the movie, most everyone agreed the score was very good.
Andy Serkis is a motion capture god in this movie, but I found his performance as Caesar not as great as Rise. That’s a hard performance to live up to as we saw Caesar grown up to become the hero we see in Dawn. Jason Clarke is likable as the main human Malcolm. The rest of the humans kind of float into the background except for Kirk Acevedo, who is terrible as the asshole who starts the ape vs. human war. While I’m one to not place complete blame on the actor as the script calls for him to be an ass, he just isn’t likable in any way. Why would a group bring him along anywhere if he is just going to be an ass 24/7? The guy shoots an ape, and you want to bring him along…WHERE THE APE HE SHOT IS?!
Kerri Russel is good as Malcolm’s girlfriend. She’s likable enough that we worry about her a little when the monkey doo doo starts hitting the fan. Gary Oldman in Dawn is the same as Brian Cranston in Godzilla. Big name star to put on the movie poster but is barely in the final product. I somewhat forgot he was in the movie when his character popped up in the final act.
With most Hollywood franchises these days, there is normally some feeling of continuance that leaves an audience wanting more. There are always sequels so why not leave them wanting to see the next movie already? But Dawn had some closure at the end. If they never made another Apes movie (psh, yeah right) I wouldn’t feel like I needed to see more. If the later Apes movies hadn’t mucked up the timeline so much, I’d say Rise and Dawn work well as prequels to the 1968 original. But it looks like a third one will be out in two years and be called Planet of the Apes
While I did not stay to confirm, there isn’t an after credits sequence.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets 4/5.
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