Wise moviegoers saved their money over July Fourth weekend for this thought-provoking film directed by Matt Reeves, who takes over directing duties for Rupert Wyatt (2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Still set in the San Francisco area, audiences can pick up right where Rise left off.
The story impacts on a high level thanks to screenwriters Scott Z. Burns, Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, and Mark Bomback, who are backed by strong performances full of realistic facial expressions, emotionally fraught action, and menacing leers.
This high quality film continues the saga of genetically evolved apes lead by Caesar who is extremely well played by Andy Serkis using motion capture technology. His worthy performance definitely adds more deserving credibility to motion capture performances and could garner some acting nominations and awards for him.
Serkis’ presence seeps through his on-screen appearance as he gives Caesar unique features in his new role as leader, like looking around at every ape to get a sense of their feelings before making important decisions, which helps to give audiences a great sense of the ape community. The initial confrontation sequence between the human group and ape tribe (alone worth the price of admission) showcases Caesar’s unique experience and newly found leadership.
Toby Kebbell (War Horse, upcoming Fantastic Four) plays Koba, a rival ape that causes conflict among the apes. Kebbell replaces stuntman/ motion capture performer Christopher Gordon from Rise.
Filmmakers expertly create conflict with meaningful background on Koba’s situation without any visual flashbacks using a key dialogue scene during an ape gathering where Koba answers Caesar’s order with a memorable speech that’s short, but amazingly effective as he uses himself as a visual aid. Reeves and his crew say so much in subtle but important ways while honoring the previous film with several references to Will, played by James Franco, who helped nurture and teach Caesar.
Caesar’s character has many admirable traits and gets the most development in the plot, even more than the two main human characters Malcolm and Dreyfus, played by seasoned actors Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Gary Oldman (Dark Knight series). Both speak volumes with their actions as leaders in desperate times. Each character could easily have their own backstories featured as separate films, which is a strong credit to the base development.
Oldman get several poignant scenes, especially when he interacts with his personal tablet computer that speaks volumes without any dialogue.
The special effects, storytelling, direction, and makeup are so good here that audiences can totally envelope themselves into this new fantasy world where human seek survival and apes begin their society. Michael Giacchino (Star Trek Into Darkness, Up) equals the high quality filmmaking with his emotional musical score.
Malcolm and a small team handle direct contact with the ape group (prompted by a necessary excursion for their survival) as Dreyfus leads the human group while he is away.
Keri Russell (Mission Impossible III, TV’s The Americans) plays Malcolm’s wife Ellie while Caesar also has a pregnant wife Cornelia and an older son “learning the ropes” alongside him. Terry Notary and Karin Konoval return as Rocket and Maurice while Judy Greer replaces stunt-woman/ dancer Devyn Dalton as Cornelia.
Besides the obvious conflicts, the two respective leaders, Malcolm and Caesar must also guide their sons Alexander, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Blue Eyes, played by Nick Thurston. Alexander finds connections with other characters through his artistic expressions and the book titled “Black Hole” by Charles Burns while Blue Eyes struggles to find his place in the ape community.
Viewers of the previous Planet of the Apes movie series and originating novel by Pierre Boulle will appreciate special references like how the teaching orangutan named Maurice is a nod to Maurice Evans, who played orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film. Reeves is slated to co-write and direct the sequel to this film, which will release in 2016.
The visuals and depth get great enhancements in the 3D theater presentation as this 2 hour and 10 minute film succeeds on so many levels. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler