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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) movie poster Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Theatrical Release: July 11, 2014 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Matt Reeves / Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver (screenplay & characters), Mark Bomback (screenplay), Pierre Boulle (novel La Planθte des Singes)

Cast: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfus), Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Kirk Acevedo (Carver), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), Jon Eyez (Fister), Enrique Murciano (Kemp), Doc Shaw (Ash), Lee Ross (Grey), Keir O'Donnell (Finney), Kevin Rankin (McVeigh), Jocko Sims (Werner)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ranks 10th in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

Though a Planet of the Apes prequel didn't sound like a great idea, especially in the aftermath of Tim Burton's mindless remake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes surprisingly wound up becoming one of 2011's best films.
Its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, arrives today to anticipation but also some doubts. It jumps ahead ten years, loses all of its predecessor's human cast, changes directors, and offers a fundamentally different experience. Despite all that, it succeeds every bit as much as the reboot before it and is destined to rank among this year's greatest movies.

A prologue wastes no time in bringing you up to speed. A decade has passed since the end of Rise, when apes began surprising mankind with their capacity for intellect, speech, and organized displays of force. Since then, a simian flu has wiped out seemingly the entire human race, while apes have only grown more sophisticated in their infrastructure based in an elaborate community of treehouses not far from the decimated, decaying San Francisco.

The most focal ape of the first film, Caesar (again Andy Serkis motion capture), is the leader of the ape population, respected and revered by all of his kind. One day, not long after the birth of Caesar's second son and two years since the last sighting, a small group of humans wanders into ape territory and one of the apes is shot. The incident heightens the tension between the two species, whose hostilities extend far beyond the apes' development of communication.

Caesar is the leader of ape nation in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."

Caesar rides into the nearby human base and explains, in perfectly passable English that shocks them, that he does not want war. The humans are prepared for such a scenario, though, with all of the firepower on their side and their resources running out.
One human, father and widower Malcolm (Jason Clarke), volunteers to approach the apes and ask for their help in restoring electricity to the region with repairs to a dam on the apes' land. He is joined by his teenaged son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his girlfriend (Keri Russell).

Although many apes are skeptical and disbelieving, Caesar reluctantly agrees to aid humanity. Meanwhile, one rogue ape, Koba (Toby Kebbell), does some reconnoitering of the human camp to assess the threat posed to the apes and then decides to take matters into his own hands.

The dramatic impact of Rise genuinely surprised. Up until then, Planet of the Apes stood as a dated but excellent science fiction movie more than a brand. Sure, there had been four sequels, two TV series, and Burton's high-profile 2001 remake, but none of that could be mistaken for works of art or even significant entertainment. Rise seemed no less ill-advised than the last revisitation and in Rupert Wyatt it didn't even boast a director who had ever proven himself in any way (his one prior feature, the 2008 prison break thriller The Escapist, seems nothing short of obscure outside of its native UK).

Dawn replaces Wyatt with Matt Reeves, who after years of toiling in B-movies (e.g. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory) and television (he created the WB college drama "Felicity"), began commanding feature film respect with both his lucrative no-name 2008 monster movie Cloverfield and the acclaimed but poorly-attended Let Me In, a 2010 remake of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. Reeves has not made anything on this large a scale before, but he's clearly up to the challenge. Dawn is first-rate entertainment.

It compels in unconventional ways. For example, the apes are very much in the foreground. As they haven't yet developed a human level of speech, they communicate primarily through sign language, which require subtitles. Subtitles on a summer popcorn movie? Why not? Perhaps informed by his experience of adapting Let (or simply by observing blockbusters like Avatar and The Passion of the Christ), Reeves seems to recognize the power of having characters talk in a way we don't understand. The apes' sign language (which incorporates a good deal of mouth movement) adds weight, subtlety, and action to every exchange. You notice that much in one pivotal moment involving Caesar, the by far most verbally articulate of his kind, that feels a little too on-the-nose even in his slightly broken English.

The apes reluctantly allow Malcolm (Jason Clarke) to enter their camp to fix a dam. The fierce Koba has his own plan for ape-human relations.

The vast majority of the film manages to unfold with equal amounts of art and entertainment. One must recognize the film's ability to redefine state-of-the-art visual effects. Dawn is nothing short of a major achievement on that front. Never before have so many digital creations looked so real and alive. Its predecessor wowed technically and maybe even deserved the Visual Effects Oscar over the more fantastically breathtaking Hugo, but this sequel elevates us to a new level seemingly beyond anything else we've seen. The rare new tentpole to opt for the narrower 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Dawn boasts exquisite compositions and also makes inspired use of 3D, a format its predecessor shunned but which this one nicely lends to.

As wonderful as the film is visually and sonically, that's not what's on your mind as you're instead fully invested in a gripping, profound story. Returning from the reboot (which they made after a 14-year industry hiatus) and credited alongside Mark Bomback, husband-wife Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver give us a screenplay that is rich with tension and examination of human nature. Seizing some choice opportunities to enforce a connection to the original film but largely blazing its own trails, this sequel arrests with refreshing creativity regardless of its war and post-apocalyptic movie overtones. The cast, which includes a couple of Reeves alumni plus a slightly underutilized Gary Oldman, suits the material well, with Clarke a standout, seemingly for the first time as an appealing leading man.

20th Century Fox has made this summer feel a lot like summer 2011, with the satisfying follow-ups to its X-Men and Planet of the Apes reboots each again emerging as the cream of the crop. It will be interesting to see if Dawn, which is getting some of the best reviews of the year (even better than Days of Future Past), can do anything about the down trend at the box office or if like its forebear, it too will prove no match for the perplexing appeal of the critically trashed Transformers series. While it may be too frightening and violent for young moviegoers, Dawn nonetheless should delight teens and adults who don't mind blockbusters with brains.

Related Reviews:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes • Planet of the Apes
Now in Theaters: X-Men: Days of Future Past • Edge of Tomorrow • Maleficent • Godzilla
Directed by Matt Reeves: Cloverfield • Let Me In | Written by Mark Bomback: Unstoppable • Race to Witch Mountain
Jason Clarke: Zero Dark Thirty • The Great Gatsby • Lawless • White House Down
Keri Russell: Dark Skies • Felicity: Season 4 • Bedtime Stories • Austenland | Kodi Smit-McPhee: The Road
Andy Serkis: The Hobbit: The Journey Begins • Inkheart | Gary Oldman: Red Riding Hood • The Dark Knight Rises
Toby Kebbell: The Sorcerer's Apprentice • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time • War Horse

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Reviewed July 11, 2014.

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