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Friday, July 11, 2014


Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
2014, 130 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

Review by Joshua Handler

Rise of the Planet of the Apes could've gone either way.  I was admittedly very suspicious of it, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was really good.  It was smart and engaging and featured an outstanding performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar, the leader of the apes.  Then it was announced that there was going to be a sequel and that Matt Reeves, director of Cloverfield (a movie that I really like), would be directing.  Now that I have seen Reeves' Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I can say that it's better than its predecessor.

The film picks up ten years after Rise left off.  The Simian Virus has ravaged the Earth and most of humanity has been wiped out.  Now a small colony of people and a growing number of increasingly intelligent apes live in and around a post-apocalyptic San Francisco.  There is peace, but it is only a matter of time before violence erupts.

The highlights of Dawn are the stunning visual effects and Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar.  I don't know what happened between 2011 when Rise was released, and 2014, but the visual effects in this film are infinitely better than those in Rise.  In most shots, it's impossible to discern whether the ape is real or CG.  The level of detail that was put into the CGI is remarkable.  Also, many have complained about the dead-eye look of motion capture.  All complaints will be entirely erased with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Caesar and the apes' eyes are full of emotion, making them relatable and sympathetic characters.

As Caesar, Andy Serkis once again amazes.  He brings a humanity and dignity to Caesar that makes Caesar the memorable, even iconic character that he is.  In other Planet of the Apes films, the apes are the "bad guys".  In Dawn, though, the ape leader is the most sympathetic character.  Serkis' human face is never seen, but the emotion that he brings shines through.

Emotion is what drives Dawn.  The story itself isn't ridiculously clever (though it's certainly compelling), but the emotional complexity that Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback infuse the narrative with is really admirable.  There are moments in Dawn that gave me chills.

And behind everything is Matt Reeves' passion.  It is obvious that Reeves loves this project and put his all into it.  He doesn't treat Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as a franchise film, but rather a sci-fi action thriller with a pulse.  At face value, the premise of this film is so ridiculous (one scene features apes riding on horses fighting humans with machine guns?!), but Reeves plays it straight and gives it a heart, which makes it engaging.

Overall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a very good piece of sci-fi cinema.  While not quite on the level of some of this summer's best blockbusters (X-Men: Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow), it is an undeniably thrilling film with stunning VFX and a powerful lead performance.


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