Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

By on July 12, 2014

By the time “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” premiered in 2011, I’d had quite enough monkey business, but the film just went to show you can’t keep a good ape down. After the disastrous Tim Burton version, I’d didn’t think I’d ever find myself enjoying another one of those films ever again, but it just goes to show you: reboots don’t have to mean retreads. Just as the “X-Men: First Class” reboot refreshed and revamped that ailing franchise, so did “Rise” completely reinvent the “Planet of the Apes” franchise for a brand new generation, complete with boffo special effects and the clever decision to have the film take place before the ape revolution, thus establishing- for this viewer, at least- how it all started in the first place.

Now comes the follow-up, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” in which humans are clearly already vastly on the losing end of the battle, with many wiped out by the simian flu, while others have gone into hiding, so as to better avoid any ape attacks, typically congregating in cities, while the apes stick to wooded areas. But what happens when humans need to go into the woods to save their own people- will the apes cooperate, or will a war break out?

Under normal circumstances, this would be a no-brainer, but these are no normal circumstances. Instead, the apes in question are led by the star of the monkey business last time around, Caesar, who is the leader of his clan and is one of the few apes to be able to speak the language of man, as taught to him by Dr. Rodman (James Franco, who has a brief cameo here) in the previous installment. Together, he and the de facto leader of the human troop passing through the woods, Malcolm (Jason Clarke, “Zero Dark Thirty”) try and work together to solve the issue facing them both, but not without serious problems along the way.

Dawn of the Apes 3

Kirk Acevado, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Jodi Smit-McPhee, and Enrique Murciano in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Courtesy of imdb.com

For one thing, one of the humans, Carver (Kirk Acevado, “Fringe”) shoots an ape he perceives as a threat, which does not go over well with some of the apes. For another, while Caesar is somewhat sympathetic to the humans, others are not so trusting, and want to go to war with them to avenge the wounded ape. But the humans in the city are armed to the teeth and Caesar doesn’t want to endanger his tribe, so he drops the group of humans back at their home and tells them to stay out- or else.

Unfortunately, there is a dam that can be used to get the power back on in the city, but it’s firmly in ape territory, so Malcolm has to go back to beg the apes to cooperate, or else the rest of the city will attack the apes and take the land by force. Can Malcolm broker peace- or at least a momentary truce? Or will a full-scale war break out? Can Caesar squelch the naysayers in his group before anarchy breaks out? Or will some of them take matters into their own hands and start an ape revolution?

This is a fully worthy follow-up to “Rise” that is packed to the brim with stand-out action sequences and awe-inspiring moments. The special effects, as ever, are completely remarkable, and you often find yourself forgetting that you’re watching faux apes instead of the real things. The film never quite crosses the line into the unbelievable, especially with the now-established rules. These apes are able to communicate the same way as normal apes would, with grunts and other sounds (which are cleverly subtitled), but some of them can also speak some English, which was, of course, set up in the last film, so it’s not exactly coming out of nowhere.

None are as smart as Caesar, so it makes perfect sense that he would be the leader. It also makes sense that not everyone would be too keen on interacting with humans, and that a new faction would rise up in protest, especially after a human harms one of their own and Caesar opts to let it slide. Ergo, what might seem far-fetched on paper is actually perfectly reasonable in the established rules of the movie, so no one should have the least bit of trouble buying into it. Just as the humans often make bad calls, so do the apes, and both sides end up paying for the mistakes of the few.

With these sorts of disagreements running rampant, it’s only a matter of time before a full-scale war breaks out, and we see the seeds of that here, as the film ends with the promise of military action on the way. This is not to give anything away, as the film is focused on these two main factions of humans and apes and their respective territories. Aside from a brief introduction catching us up with what been happening since the last movie’s events, we never venture out of these two locales, so our primary focus is on who will remain standing if a battle breaks out- if anyone.

The action in this is top-notch, and the end set-piece, in particular, is exciting and a pure, unadulterated joy to watch, with some brilliant camerawork and planning involved that shows a lot of thought was put into it. At times, you feel like you’re swinging around and jumping right alongside the apes, and that’s a pretty nifty feeling, especially in 3D. I can’t say enough about the special effects in general in this thing, even the stuff you know is likely CGI. And honestly, if you can’t get behind a movie which features apes brandishing firearms in both hands as they ride into town on horseback, something is wrong with you, because it is crazy-awesome.

These apes are packing! Courtesy of imdb.com

These apes are packing!
Courtesy of imdb.com

Thanks to the indispensible acting of Andy Serkis and his fellow monkey men and women, coupled with the motion-capture approach, these apes look, act and feel real. I can’t imagine that kids won’t love this, despite the fact that some animals fare better than others- watch out for that bear! As it stands, I caught myself staring in wonder more than a few times. And did I mention there are ape subtitles? Yes, please. Honestly, if it was all apes, I still think this would be watchable- and we may well get there, if this does well at the box office- another sequel is in the works.

For effects alone, it gets an A+, but for overall watch-ability, I’d say maybe a B+. There are some slow spots, and the film is a bit overlong overall, but the awesomeness of the apes and the effects and action mostly make up for the slow spots. By all means, see it in 3D, if you go for that sort of thing, but either way, it’s a solid watch. No monkey-ing around here, this is one franchise that hasn’t lost it’s, ahem, appeal. (Thanks, I’ll be here all week.)

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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