“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”: Let’s Bring the Franchise to a Whole New Level!

dpota-forbes.jpg

Hail, Caesar! (Source: Forbes)

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt brilliantly brings the popular franchise back to life. A San Francisco scientist created a drug that would cure Alzheimer’s disease. After deeming it a success to chimps, his co-workers decide to make a powerful version of the drug. This causes a worldwide epidemic after the apes had a rebellion on the Golden Gate Bridge to escape to Muir Woods National Monument. This leads up to the next film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) introduces somebody else to the director’s chair, and known for making some of the most ambitious films of this century. Enter Matt Reeves, the director of the sci-fi found-footage film Cloverfield and the vampire drama Let Me In (remake of 2008’s Let the Right One In). I’m glad he stepped in to direct more Planet of the Apes films. What he does with Dawn is as ambitious as it is pretty damn captivating.

Ten years after a simian flu outbreak, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes have called the Muir Woods their home. They create their own laws (“Ape Not Kill Ape” being one of the key laws) and teach the young. The movie opens up with them hunting for elk (accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s haunting score, the choir feels reminiscent to Ligetti’s “Atmospheres”, used in the star gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Seeing his son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) almost killed, Caesar tells him to “Think before you act.”

dpota-redbrick

The apes prepare for a battle in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Red Brick)

Meanwhile, a group of survivors, including Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his wife Ellie (Keri Russell), and son Alex (Kodi-Smit McPhee), are living in a now-devastated San Francisco. They need to get the power running through the city; however, the dam that connects the power throughout the city is on the other side of ape territory. While Caesar wants to keep peace between apes and humans, Koba (Toby Kebbell) has a strong hatred for humans. He goes out of his way to kill every last of them for revenge.

dpota-koba-cinemablend

Koba (Toby Kebbell) kills in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Cinema Blend)

Dawn has plenty of connections to Battle. To be fair, this throws every single Planet of the Apes sequel out of the water. Reeves uses the connections from the original films to his full advantage. The movie has a marvelous theme involving supremacy with allegorical connections to Cain and Abel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Caesar and Koba are two distinct yet different characters. Caesar’s leadership is through compassion. He might miss having a human companion, but he has to focus on protecting the apes in their sanctuary even his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) sick after giving birth. A lot of apes join his side, including orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval). In contrast, Koba is sick of the abuse being brought upon by the humans. In one scene involving dark humor, he encounters two people—Terry (Lombardo Boyar) and McVeigh (Kevin Renkin)—who sit back and having a drink after target practice. Koba entertains them until he picks up a gun and starts shooting them. The reason why Koba is one of the franchise’s most memorable villains is because he is so unpredictable at what might happen to him. It amazes me how smarter the apes are with each movie.

dpota-bts-wsj

Behind-the-scenes of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with Jason Clarke and others. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Motion capture has certainly come a long way after The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Weta Digital is back to make the CGI apes as seamless as ever. I’m surprised Andy Serkis has not received a special Academy Award for bringing these characters to life. His performance as Caesar is one of the most powerful I have seen in many years. Furthermore, he’s one of the only characters performed through motion-capture that moved me to tears. His affection for humans is just the same for his affection for his ape friends. While Malcolm (wonderfully played by Clarke, fresh from starring as one of the NAVY seals assigned to kill Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty) may not be like Will, but he has a similar motivation as Caesar in every way. He has suffered so much during the ten years, and wants to have peace in the world as opposed to violence. After losing his youngest daughter to the outbreak, the only people he has to care about is Ellie and Alex. Once Malcolm finds shelter at Caesar’s childhood home, he and his family must help him get back to health. In one powerful scene, Caesar goes through the attic and sees a video camera. He watches a video of him as an infant learning sign language from Will. Malcolm asks who that was in the video. Caesar says, “A good man…like you.”

dpota-imfdb

Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) looking badass holding that machine gun in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (Source: Internet Movie Firearms Database)

Dawn is perhaps the most complex film in the series, filled with compelling characters. Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, for instance, is particularly complicated. It’s obvious that he has a law enforcement background. He lost everything, from his family to his job as a police officer. He’s not happy with Caesar and the apes living on this planet. He’s struggling just as much as everyone else. From the villain in The Fifth Element, Sirius Black, Commissioner Gordon, and now he’s going to play Winston Churchill in the upcoming Darkest Hour, it proves how great of an actor Oldman is.

This movie is most certainly not without its action. Nothing looks more awesome than seeing a group of apes riding on horseback (the shot of the tank is also just as gorgeous as the miraculous sets of post-apocalyptic San Francisco and the apes’ sanctuary). When they finally go at it against the humans, it makes the audience root for both sides. Meanwhile, Caesar has reached his breaking point with Koba, they fight in one of the most thrilling fights set on top of a tower.

It is impossible to top such a classic like the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, but Matt Reeves has made a wonderful piece of science-fiction with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It has just enough thrills, emotion, dark comedy, and visual wonder to make it my personal favorite film in the series. Bring on, War for the Planet of the Apes!

Advertisements

Movie Review: Everest

A group of climbers encounter some fierce weather in "Everest"

A group of climbers encounter some fierce weather in “Everest”

For a movie about one of the expeditions at Mt. Everest sounds like one intense flick. Baltasar Kormákur’s (2 Guns) vision of the 1996 expedition is a mixed bag. There is a plenty to feast on the eyes and when the bad weather arrives it gets excited. However, with an exceptional cast, they had very little to do with the limited character development. With the 121-minute running time, Everest is a quite a bore until the real stuff happens. The big star here is Mt. Everest.

2/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) enters the land occupied by Caesar and his apes in Matt Reeves' "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

Malcolm (Jason Clarke) enters the land occupied by Caesar and his apes in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

I haven’t seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, but I am familiar with the series. The only one I’ve seen was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was pleased with what I saw. It featured an underrated performance by James Franco (before he became a complete joke) as Will, a scientist testing his Alzheimer’s cure on his father and then on a chimp named Caesar. I couldn’t have asked for a better climax resulting in an incredible build-up for the sequel. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which I’ve seen last night), director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) takes the story to a whole new level.

The movie opens in 2016, where our hero Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his group of apes unleashed a virus leaving billions around the world dead. The reason for this is that they could make peace for themselves. After taking San Francisco by storm a decade earlier, Caesar and his apes have settled in Muir Woods. He becomes the leader of the apes; learning that apes are equal, and they should not kill other apes (nod to George Orwell’s Animal Farm). He has a family; his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) becomes ill after giving birth. His son Blue Eyes is walking in the forest when he spots a human.

The human, Carver (Kirk Acevado) is one of the few hundred survivors of the virus outbreak. He’s a member of a group, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), struggling to make peace. With no power in the city, the group decide to enter Muir Woods to generate a dam that might restore the power. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the head of the survivors, doesn’t appreciate the apes living on Earth. He decides to go to war with the apes to prove who’s the dominant species.

Caesar has as much respect for the survivors as for the apes like he did with Will in Rise. Even though he acts like a human-being, he is really sympathetic to humans. In one emotional scene, Malcolm and his family find shelter in Caesar’s childhood home when the war between man and apes is taking place. Caesar stays up in the attic for the night as he finds a fully charged camcorder. He presses ‘play’ and he watches a video of himself (as an infant) being taught by Will. After the video, Malcolm asks him “Who was that in the video?” “A good man,” Caesar responds, “Like you.” However, his lieutenant Koba (one of the best villains in recent memory), prefers to kill every human-being on Earth. This is understandable that he leads the other apes to war against the humans for Caesar. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits it out of the park with emotion.

Reeves brilliantly captures the ruined city of San Francisco and the apes’ settlement with an allegorical, emotionally powerful and action-packed story as intelligent as the apes themselves. It looks like the humans are actually corresponding to the computer-generated primates without pretending they aren’t even there. The motion capture is as phenomenal as ever; it makes us forget we’re watching an actor capturing the ape’s body language rather than a realistic CGI creation. I think it’s time that Andy Serkis receives a special achievement Oscar for bringing this wonderful technology to life. From Gollum to King Kong to Caesar, he’s definitely brought motion capture to the next level. If it isn’t for him, it would probably get old very fast. This is how a sequel is made!

4/4