Film Review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Dawn of the Planet of the

'Cloverfield' director Matt Reeves helms a bleak but spectacular sequel to the 2011 man-vs.-monkey hit.

It’s always darkest before the dawn, goes the saying — but in resuming a franchise already suspended on a downbeat note, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” sees the simian revolution reaching unprecedented levels of bleak anarchy. An altogether smashing sequel to 2011’s better-than-expected “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” this vivid, violent extension of humanoid ape Caesar’s troubled quest for independence bests its predecessor in nearly every technical and conceptual department, with incoming helmer Matt Reeves conducting the proceedings with more assertive genre elan than “Rise” journeyman Rupert Wyatt. Entirely replacing the previous film’s human cast, but crucially promoting Andy Serkis’ remarkable motion-capture inhabitation of Caesar to centerstage, “Dawn” ought to go ape at the global box office starting July 9, smoothing the path for further sequels to test the franchise’s complexity.

Following the robust performance of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” — which garnered warm reviews, more than $480 million worldwide and an Oscar nomination for its stunning effects work — “Cloverfield” director Reeves inherits the Pierre Boulle-originated franchise in considerably better condition than Wyatt did, considering the almighty whiff of Tim Burton’s 2001 “Planet of the Apes” remake. Credibility restored, then, it’d have been easy to get complacent, recycling the “Rise’s” most impressive setpieces and welding them to a hasty resuscitation of its movie-science narrative. Instead, Reeves and returning writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (joined by “The Wolverine” scribe Mark Bomback) have taken a different tonal tack, fashioning the new installment as an out-and-out war drama, with surprising subdivisions in its central conflict of man vs. beast, and battle scenes to do Weta Digital godfather Peter Jackson proud.

The action begins approximately a decade after “Rise” left off, with a pre-credits montage of global news reports filling in the subsequent drastic developments: The ALZ-113 virus (or simian flu) unleashed at the end of the prior film has wiped out most of the world’s human population, with a survival rate of less than one in 500. It’s a slight red herring of an introduction, given that the virus is no longer the most immediate threat to man’s day-to-day existence. With all government functions suspended and nuclear power critically depleted, any remaining bands of survivors exist in spartan, unlit isolation; if the flu doesn’t get to them first, the lack of basic resources will.

San Francisco — or the post-ape-ocalyptic remainder of it, at least — is once more the setting, brilliantly realized by production designer James Chinlund as a gangrenous wasteland of vegetation-swamped slumhouses, the city’s erstwhile landmarks glumly clothed in rust and moss. Its few residents are led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a former military man bent on revenge against the apes for the loss of his family to the virus. More sanguine is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who spearheads a project to recover the city’s electricity by regaining control of the O’Shaughnessy Dam. That entails encroaching on the forested domain of the neighboring ape community, still ruled with a firm but hairy hand by Caesar; with relations between man and ape already fragile, this violation throws fuel on the flames of civil unrest.

Though Caesar responds to the diplomatic overtures of Malcolm and his medic wife, Ellie (Keri Russell), and grants them limited access to the dam, not all his subjects approve. Particularly irate is Koba (Toby Kebbell), a hot-headed, human-hating ape with mutinous designs on his leader’s position; when an equivalently reactionary member of Malcolm’s party is revealed to have broken Caesar’s “no guns” condition of cooperation, the resulting furor gives Koba the impetus to launch his aggressive counter-movement. (Sadly, the writers resist giving Caesar the line “Et tu, Koba?”) The script elegantly constructs its human and ape communities as opposed but markedly similar ecosystems, each one internally fractured along lines of relative tolerance toward the other.

The “Apes” franchise has always been a politically loaded one, and this latest entry states its left-wing credo in ways both allegorically implicit and bluntly direct. (You’d have to be pretty obtuse to miss the pro-gun-control subtext attached to misdeeds on both sides of the man-monkey battle.) While the previous film functioned as something of a cautionary tale against man’s destructive meddling with his environment, “Dawn” apportions blame a little more equally, as the beasts (introduced in a thrilling, technically jaw-dropping faceoff against a grizzly bear) are shown to be no less reckless an influence on the biosphere than their former superiors. “I always think ape better than human,” Caesar admits to Malcolm, his speech patterns having evolved rather rapidly even over the course of this film. “I see now how like them we are.” It’s a reverse epiphany that would have Jane Goodall in tears.

Regardless of whose side audiences might take, however, the fallout is inarguably spectacular. Reeves stages the ensuing crossfire in the human colony with much the same sense of kinetic panic he brought to the flipped monster-movie mechanics of “Cloverfield,” albeit with far more technical dazzle this time. With most of the below-the-line talent new to the franchise, “Dawn” has an aesthetic entirely distinct from that of “Rise,” with Michael Seresin’s antsy camerawork painting from a strikingly dank palette, and Michael Giacchino’s chorally embellished score occasionally evoking the grandeur of Howard Shore’s work on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The editing by William Hoy and Stan Salfas rotates multiple points of drama before hurtling into a too-busy finale that sells Oldman’s arc particularly short: Still, while nearly half an hour longer than its predecessor, the film certainly doesn’t feel it.

Naturally, though, the services of effects wizards Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon have been retained — and with even more astonishing results this time, with the enlarged population and evolved capabilities of the ape community (who can now ride horses, handle firearms and goodness knows what else) posing fresh logistical challenges that are seamlessly met. The fusion of the film’s motion-capture work with its sophisticated fight choreography is particularly staggering.

That Caesar’s community now seems so integrated and completely characterized is certainly due to Letteri and Lemmon’s magic, though much credit should also go to the actors behind the illusion. Serkis must by now be used to the superlatives heaped upon his agile fusion of performance and image in many a CGI spectacle, though he’s in particularly empathetic, emotionally specific form here; Kebbell’s brute physicality and wild-eyed animosity, meanwhile, burns through the digital disguise. Despite Clarke’s everyman likability and some reliably gonzo posturing from Oldman, the less hirsute ensemble seems a little bland by comparison. Perhaps the film’s on the side of the apes after all.

Film Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

Reviewed at Moscow Film Festival (closer, noncompeting), June 27, 2014. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 130 MIN.

Production

A 20th Century Fox release and presentation of a Chernin Entertainment production in association with TSG Entertainment, Ingenious Media. Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Executive producers, Thomas M. Hammel, Mark Bomback.

Crew

Directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback, based on characters created by Jaffa, Silver. Camera (color), Michael Seresin; editors, William Hoy, Stan Salfas; music, Michael Giacchino; production designer, James Chinlund; art director, Aaron Naaman Marshall; set decorator, Amanda Moss Serino; costume designer, Melissa Bruning; sound (Dolby Atmos), Ed White; supervising sound editors, Douglas Murray, Will Files; re-recording mixers, Andy Nelson, Files; senior visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri; visual effects supervisor, Dan Lemmon; visual effects, Weta Digital; stunt coordinators, Charles Croughwell, Marny Eng, Terry Notary; associate producer, Jennifer Teves; assistant director, Mathew Dunne; second unit directors, Brad Parker, Gary Powell; second unit camera, Gary Capo; casting, Debra Zane.

With

Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Terry Notary, Judy Greer, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, Keir O'Donnell, Kevin Rankin.

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  1. nazleinchriaz says:

    nice movie

  2. john says:

    as a gigantic ape fan. i did some research where it says apes can’t talk. it is a physical thing. in the movie the drug made them smarter. that doesn’t mean it changed their vocal chords. why don’t the writers explain this. say the drug miraculously expanded their vocal chords to talk. throw me a bone. the sign language is great.

  3. Jimmi Shrode says:

    Pass. I don’t support Anti-Semites.

  4. David Gatch says:

    Movie seems to be a metaphor for the degradation of “American Culture”.

  5. Nick L. Gale says:

    The original series of movies are still my favorites.

  6. RGMASTER says:

    Stupid movie for stupid people….like me.

  7. johnthekiwi says:

    Sorry but the whole suspension of disbelief thing and mindlessly dystopian ‘grungy future’ schlock that H’Wood throws out there just doesn’t cut it for me. Being a biotech scientist and someone that has worked with NHPs every premise in this genre is flawed. And if there were only 14 million humans left that represented a plurality of all skill sets and occupations we would soon have the flora of this world back under control. I have or have access to enough firepower to wipe out every simian escapee within a 100 mile radius.

    • Texasbil says:

      It has been my experience that highly advertised movies are only being treated that way because they are too sorry to stand on their own.

  8. General Drake says:

    I don’t like any of them really. I love sci-fi but these are just getting ridiculous.

  9. Dave says:

    HAH! You posters crack me up.. it’s a MOVIE!

  10. texasaaa says:

    Damn near need A PhD to read this review. Must be required to keep their status. I did get enough out of it that I cant wait to see it.

  11. Paladin says:

    Yes! And criminals will always have guns…

  12. Robb Nunya says:

    There may be an anti-gun sentiment, but I wonder how many people will understand the pro-gun logic that guns are the only thing keeping the physically weaker humans even a little bit in the battle. Take away the guns and ht battle’s over. That’s what guns are. An equalizer for the weak so that they aren’t immediately run over by the strong.

  13. Bob says:

    Based on these comments, most of you must be socially depressed.

  14. Lakota Jake says:

    Is Andy Serkis the Owner/Licensor/GOD when it comes to motion capture? Nobody can don a ping pong ball suit and hop around? Do I have to see Andy Serkis in EVERY FREAKING CGI movie now. I know he is digitized into a gorilla but what the heck – are they going to call the people who do get the chance to do what he does Serkis-artists?

  15. Politically I probably am polar opposite of 95% of Hollywood types. Yes, films made for the general public (not your overtly political films) have covert or even overt political messages. Most of these messages, though, speak to the proverbial ‘choir’ and do not, or should not influence people’s political decisions or thoughts, reinforcing those things people already beleive. If you are so insecure in your political, religious or normative beleifs to be swayed by a piece of entertainment, you are probably sitting in that low information section of the information pool that I could not countenance you regardless if your politics and mine mesh or not. This review was well written and I am looking forward to this film. I’m sorry for people of either political stripe who let politics interfere with being entertained whether it’s music, television or film. If I let my politics dictate my entertainment choices I wouldn’t have many choices to be sure. So, sit back, relax, enjoy the film for enternainment’s sake…you’re not voting for Gary Oldman, Ceasar, the writers, directors or producers of this film….chill out and be entertained.

  16. Rob says:

    Come on man…..that’s a pathetic comment.

  17. iambicpentamaster says:

    So this is a sequel to The Knockout Game?

  18. nanuklost says:

    Reblogged this on lostgraphics and commented:
    can’t wait to see the final result

  19. I will get this in the secondard market.

    Pro gun control messages means the actors and crew get to work for me for free.

    So I will buy the used rental and the store gets the money.

    • roboslater says:

      There are lots of ways of getting this film for free, and you don’t have to wait for it to come out on DVD for rental.

  20. Jay says:

    It looks like a fantastic movie. I just wonder if it will be diverse enough. I really like my entertainment to be really, really filled with diversity. If the apes are all black, then I think I won’t like it so much.

    • Directorrick says:

      Bwhahahahahahaha! Well done! I am always cognizant of the diversity factor and you beat me to the punch.

  21. karen says:

    Can’t stop laughing very funny dam

  22. Disn’t see the first one probably miss this one also.

  23. Mensa graham says:

    Sean Findley seems to be having a disturbance all on his own. I have a solution better than the ones you proposed – quit ready the comments!!

  24. winstons says:

    Bingo!!!

  25. winstons says:

    Guess what this film is an allegory for (one hint: the apes first language is Spanglish.). For another film- allegory on the same topic see “No Country for Old (White) Men).

  26. Scott says:

    The animators did a brilliant job bringing the apes–especially Ceasar, to life. The acting shows once again how great actors with pencils/pixels are when given challenging material.

  27. sean findley says:

    I tend to be more conservative than liberal but the comments section here is absolutely insane. Some of you people are fucking crazy. I think it’s about time the whole lot of you unplug from the internet, permanently. What is your problem? What on Earth does this film have to do with Jews, Karl Marx, Obama, border insecurities? Holy Christ check yourselves, you’ve gone off the deep end with no return.

    • bitter trekkie says:

      This comments section is more entertaining than the movie is likely to be. After the last Apes movie, that’s enough for me. Talking chimps on screen are not endlessly fascinating, I guess the talking chimps on the internet are stealing all their thunder.

    • Matt says:

      This article was linked from the Drudge Report. While I admire the work that Drudge does and I frequently use his website, his website is often used as a heat seeking missile for these types of guys straight to the comment sections.

      • bitter trekkie says:

        Hah, I thought this particular variety of wingnuttery seemed familiar. There should be a way for sites to lock out links…

    • Mark says:

      Welcome to what the right-wing base has become: a cesspool of paranoid, delusional, wet-pants, white supremacists who see even action movies as a threat.

    • guest says:

      You couldn’t be more wrong. You do know that many movies, like the original Planet of the Apes, are metaphors, right? Whether it be for slavery, civil rights, illegal aliens, communism, marxism, socialism, gun control etc…many movies have a deeper meaning written in to them. They are telling a story that is analogically related to the issue they are trying to address. If you don’t know this by now then you are probably the one that needs to stay off the internet, as there are a lot of shocking things there that you clearly, won’t understand.

      • Directorrick says:

        Filmmakers may have the intent of using their stories as metaphor however we as an audience have the option of just being entertained and walking away. For most important issues that affect us as human beings, as Americans or our gender and/or cultural background, there are enough actual events that belie the need for cinematic allegory.

    • winstons says:

      It’s an allegory. Can you get that?

    • Scott says:

      Racism is alive and well in America, as evidenced by the comments to a F#!#ING MOVIE!! What a bunch of whack jobs.

  28. sean findley says:

    This guy is a real writer. Excellent review. Highly engaging. Kudos

  29. Tim Burton, poor soul, is mentally disturbed. Anyone could have made a better film than his.

  30. Pure Fluff says:

    Reblogged this on Pure Fluff and commented:
    It looks awesome. The last one with James Franco was mediocre at best.

  31. Klaus says:

    So the message of the movie is: Bioweapons OK, guns bad.
    How long would slavery have lasted in America if the slaves had guns?

  32. Rudy says:

    The coming world war isn’t going to be between apes and man; it is going to be between America, Britain (and the former Commonwealth) and Europe, with the latter two being nuclear bombed out of existence! Once that destruction is complete, the war will continue between Europe and Russia and China, with Europe being annihilated! America has become a threat to global stability, both monetarily and in terms of her nuclear arms and all the social upheaval at her doorstep. Russia has become, or is trying to become the world’s “policeman,” but that is making Germany very nervous. Watch for some fantastic, mind-boggling militarizing to occur in Europe very soon.

  33. I’m Amazed – who knew Michelle could act ! She can dance the Boog-a-loo great , like on Jimmy Kimmel …but wow her performance here was incredible.

  34. soflodoug says:

    This movie story line is already happening now. What is the big deal here? Cant somebody come up with somehong new? or have we come full circle and we need to start all over again?

  35. Heck it’s just a movie…. Calm down people its for out entertainment,

  36. derik says:

    Read the plot….look at the comments. I will be skipping it too!

  37. Calling an ape a monkey is akin to calling a Parakeet an Emu… Monkeys have prehensile tails and usually live in trees. An ape doesn’t have a tail BIG DIFFERENCE RIGHT? They are both primates but as in the mammal class e.g. a whale is not a human and vice versa…For god’s sake, when will people begin to learn again? This stuff is 4th grade Biology!

  38. Mandrake says:

    I hate every ape I see
    From chimpan-a to chimpan-zee
    No, you’ll never make a monkey out of me…

  39. Ohio River says:

    Hopefully, Americans will see the movie and get the idea of revolution against tyranny and finally take a stand.

    A TIME TO STAND by Oliver is a must read on the 2nd American Revolution & what is coming next as decent Americans take a stand. Just read it so I recommend it as a must read.

    Hollywood may have hit a nerve with this movie for millions of Americans.

    • N3M3S1S says:

      Americans too fat and totally ignorant for any revolution. They have no sense of history and had an awful education for 4/5 decades. They are perfect slaves for the Corporatocracy that has been built around them and they don’t even realize it. I’ve lost all faith in them.

  40. Abigail Hope says:

    I am sure the critics will love this bunch of bull you-know-what, but they hated Transformers.

  41. rocky-o says:

    all conservatives who are deriding this film in their posts can just stay home watching ‘duck dynasty’, where intelligence is not a pre-requisite…

  42. LC says:

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Don’t hold your breath waiting for anything intellectually-stimulating from Hollywood.

  43. Pardon, but the CGI effects in this latest round of POTA films looks pretty cheesy. You would think, after the spectacular ape effects in 2005’s “King Kong,” we could expect wholly-realistic-looking chimpanzees by now. Unfortunately, Caesar still looks rather amateurish and unconvincing.

  44. Percival says:

    Politically loaded? No kidding? Come one, it’s more than just the gun thing though. The original book (_Monkey Planet_) followed sci-fi’s traditional examination of what “human” means, and how we treat each other, as far back as Carel Capek’s _R.U.R._. Capek’s 1920 book, which introduced the word “robot”, was actually about what we would today call artificial human slaves. The POTA movies ask awkward questions of us- do apes deserve “human rights”? If so, are they now our “slaves”? How you feel about the films (once you get past the graphics) will likely depend mostly on your own political and religious orientation- don’t put it all on the filmmakers. They’re just asking the questions.

    Sci-fi has been exploring these themes much more deeply than has mainstream literature. It’s only in the last few decades that anybody but geeks have been thinking about this stuff seriously. It’s about time.

  45. Gabriel says:

    The first POTA movies from the 60s and 70s were a warning to mankind about nuclear weapons ( for the most part) but the new POTA movies seem anti western civilization. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

    • Dave Mowers says:

      Well Gabriel is seems that you are pro-science tampering with GMO’s, genetically-modified viruses, human-animal chimera viral transfer, biological viral weapon engineering and a general disregard for billions of years of natural evolution all some some Wall Street-backed IPO can make a few thousand people super rich while guaranteeing the inevitable death of all mankind. I hope you find it was all worth it when the outbreaks start.

      • Toxic says:

        Maybe we need to go back to the Moon and dig up a Monolith that will point us to a larger Monolith that will aid us in evolution.

  46. Gabriel says:

    Based on the first movie and clips of the second, is it fair to say the Hollywood left not only hates Americans, they also hate humans? Because basically that’s what I take away from this movie genre. It’s hard to root for the apes who want nothing but our demise throughout most of the show. It’s like cheering for AQ!!!

  47. punkmaister says:

    Awesome, they sud mae a new POTA V series based on this reboot too

  48. dandru says:

    You guys need to fix this article’s deck. “Man vs monkey” makes no sense in a film about apes. Monkeys and apes are not the same animals. That’s like describing the film “Hotel for Dogs” as a film about wolves.

    • Mike Hohimer says:

      I guess someone should explain that to the author of the original novel, Pierre Boulle who’s book was titled “Monkey Planet”

    • Big___Al says:

      Hey dandruff… nobody cares about the excruciating minutia of the difference between monkeys and apes, except you.

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