CAPSULE: With a story that asks once again "why can't we all get along?" we have the special-effects-laden account of human epidemic survivors coming into conflict with apes of human-level intelligence. More intelligence and less fighting could have made this a better film. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the second film in Fox's reboot of their Planet of the Apes series. The first series had CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES followed by BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. The sounds out of order to me. If the planet were conquered why would there still be a battle for it? Here again we have RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) followed by DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014). Are we to believe the planet rose before dawn?
The newest chapter starts where the coda in the credits of the last film left off. The Simian Flu virus is spreading around the world. The virus is deadly to most humans but makes apes more intelligent. Flash forward ten years and we learn a few humans were genetically immune to the virus. They have been through a holocaust left to the imagination and perhaps sadly never depicted. Meanwhile a society of good solid salt-of-the-earth super-apes are living in Muir Woods not far from the Golden Gate Bridge whose high towers they climb so gracefully. They use the bridge towers as a sentry point to defend their colony.
The apes are led by Caesar (played Andy Serkis made with motion capture to look like an ape with human facial expressions). The apes do not even believe that any humans survived the virus until a handful of them show up in their woods. It seems that some of the human survivors have set up a small community in what used to be San Francisco. With permission to go through the ape-controlled wood they could get to the hydroelectric dam and provide power to local humans and, incidentally, apes. Getting along together, humans and apes, would be a win-win situation, but peace between species is a delicate thing and an unstable equilibrium.
I have to admit that I ruined this film for myself. From very early on in the film I started seeing the story of a well- intentioned but didactic 1950s Western. You have the settlers and the cavalry on one side and the Native Americans on the other. You have a bunch of people on each side trying to bring peace and you have troublemakers and you have troublemakers on both sides trying to stir people up so they will fight. Seeing the film in that light shows off every cliché and there are a lot. And if the viewer does not pick up on the Native American parallels the ape fighters even wear war paint. Seen from that light this may be a cutting edge science fiction film, but it is one with a Western plot that was worn out fifty years ago.
The big attraction of *RISE* OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was Caesar, an ape with human and hence readable expressions. That took him a long way in winning the audience sympathy. In *DAWN* OF THE PLANET OF THE APES his expression is again readable. It just is no fun. His face is a constant scowl. He has been frequently mistreated by humans, and it looks like that experience has made him mean. But he is really just the care-worn but wise leader of the apes. Koba (Toby Kebbell) a human-scarred bonobo is the real angry ape. These two apes, and most of the others, are dark in personality. Like the film in general, the forest dwellers are solemn and humorless. The apes are a perfect complement to a San Francisco that seems constantly rainy and overcast.
The film is directed by Matt Reeves, best known for helming LET ME IN, the Hammer Films remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. As with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, the script is written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback, at a higher quality and more believable level than the original series. Unlike the "X-Men" films, even if you missed the predecessors in the series it is fairly easy to get up to speed understanding what is going on. The human peacemakers are played by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, neither of whom have enough screen presence to steal a scene from a manhole cover, let alone a CGI ape.
In spite of the marvelous CGI lavished on this production to make the apes look like apes, they anatomically seem to have the dimensions of humans. I guess the legs are too straight and too long and the spines are too straight. My theory is that with all the effects thrown into the film, there would still be too many apes to do with CGI alone so they still put humans into ape suits. That was how they did all the apes of the first series. Human proportions were not so noticeable in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, but there are a *lot* of apes in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and they cannot give each the attention it requires.
One thing that is of interest in this reboot of the "Planet of the Apes" series is that while the two newer films can be their own series, they also work as a continuation of the older series. In that series there was always a question to how apes and humans could so exactly change places. The apes live in the wide world and the humans are put in cages and zoos. The DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES rather neatly goes a long way to answer that question. Switching places could easily be the future of the apes and humans in the new film. At this point they are pretty close to being on an even footing. We are left at the end with a world in which there will be more war between apes and humans and the odds are fairly even. That alone adds interest to this film. Sadly, we know in advance too much of where the series is going. I rate DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2103281/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper