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Dawn of the Planet of the
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes marks the eighth big screen sci-fi "monkey movie" from 20th Century Fox loosely inspired by prolific French novelist Pierre Boulle's 1963 book, La Planète des Singes. Boulle's tale related the dire experiences of young journalist Ulysse Mérou on an Earth-like planet orbiting Betelgeuse that's ruled by a highly developed society of orangutans, chimps and gorillas - to the detriment of its primitive human wildlife. The first film adaptation, Planet of the Apes (1968), famously starred Charlton Heston as shipwrecked American astronaut George Taylor, as well as Kim Hunter in heavy prosthetics as simian animal psychologist Dr. Zira. It garnered two Academy Award nominations and an honorary Oscar for outstanding make-up, and spawned Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), and a couple of short-lived mid-1970s TV series before director Tim Burton's 2001 re-imagined remake of the iconic original brought former Oscar winner Heston a Razzie Award for worst supporting actor.
Holy cripes! This is an exceptional dramatic actioner and easily one of the best films seen so far this summer. Sure, there are more than a couple of minor flaws, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stands head-and-shoulders above any of its franchise predecessors - including the 1968 original, which is one of my all-time personal favourites. This latest feature's success is in large part due to returning screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver who, along with co-writer Mark Bomback craft a wonderfully compelling, almost Shakespearean epic filled with believable primary characters - some of whom just-so happen to be motion captured actors presented on-screen as ultra-realistic computer animated primates. It's still a bit tough to accept that Caesar and the other chimpanzees in close-up have human-like white eyeballs instead of black eyeballs like real chimps, but it's a weird bit of weirdness left over from Rise of The Planet of the Apes as well as from all the previous actors-in-ape-costume flicks that's used far more effectively here in consistently conveying their unspoken emotions throughout.
This time around, adult Caesar's harmonious society of highly sentient chimps, orangutans and gorillas have built a peaceful tribal home in Muir Woods National Monument Park 19 kilometres north of the decaying carcass of San Francisco and its long-dead cruelties of Man, unaware that a pocket of humans have cobbled together a tenuous stronghold sanctuary within that city's overgrown ruin and unwittingly plan to bring in desperately needed electricity from a nearby dam located in ape territory. First contact is a surprise for both sides and goes terribly bad, inciting mutually fearful calls for war despite Caesar's hard stance against causing more death, forcing an uneasy boundary. However, Malcolm insists he can broker a truce and restart the dam, channeling Jane Goodall for the remainder of the movie while Koba's devotion to Caesar sours towards making the biggest impact on movie goers by rapid-firing two automatic rifles all John Woo style as he rides a horse through a wall of fire. It's way over-the-top, but that searing, indelible image should have been the movie poster's main visual. It's a totally Hollywood moment.
Andy Serkis is phenomenal, serving up a memorably astounding presence of voice and mannerism as Caesar that strongly resonates beyond the post-production layering involved in visually transforming him into this natural leader of these mentally advanced great apes. Huge kudos as well to Toby Kebbell, whose enormously versatile portrayal of Caesar's man-hating second banana Koba absolutely steals every scene he's in. The escalating brittle dynamic between these two actors' characters electrifies this entire film. Awesome. And, while the human-played human roles pretty much stick to being comparably less complex supporting characters throughout, Jason Clarke pulls in a notably fleshed out performance as Malcolm that helps move the story along. Top marks also go to this gorgeously moody-looking picture's cinematographer, Michael Seresin, as well as to Michael Giacchino for providing an enjoyably amazing primal soundtrack. Virtually everything is near-perfect, definitely making up for the scattered and dragged out Rise of the Planet of the Apes. No need to grind through that last effort again before seeing this stunning audience-pleaser, it recaps the highlights.
As for those minor flaws, 99% are relatively forgivable but worth mentioning because that's what this paragraph is for. I've already cited the eyeball weirdness, but it's also somewhat head-scratching just how inconsistent these highly advanced apes and gorillas are here. They live in a mindfully close-knit and orderly group, conscious of the havoc they've come through, but at least twice the vast majority immediately forget all that in a blinding instant. As though they were merely living in the moment, aping human civility all along, prone at any second to follow the first goof to start swinging on the chandeliers, ordering pizzas by the dozen from another country or riding motorcycles up and down the cinema aisles 'til the building explodes. There's also a slight discrepancy in just how many apes there are in Caesar's tribe. Sometimes it seems there are a hundred or so, sometimes it seems like thousands appear. However, the dumbest flaw relates to one character who somehow miraculously survives a powerful explosion. We're deep in spoiler territory, but that outcome makes no sense except as a meddlesome, logic-defying executive decision.
All in all, a roaring great story punctuated by masterful dramatic nuances and captivating primary primates makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes an absolute must-see summer blockbuster well worth checking out at your favourite local movie theatre. Plus, long-time franchise fans will likely have a blast recognizing the few subtle nods to the older Planet of the Apes flicks, such as the Forbidden Zone and Giacchino's musical score. Entertaining and clever. Reviewed 07/14, © Stephen Bourne, moviequips.ca.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
is rated PG by the Ontario Film Review Board, citing scenes containing
some grotesque images in a fantasy, comedic or historic context,
use of expletives, scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety,
or fear, limited embracing and kissing, tobacco use, and restrained
portrayals of non-graphic violence, and is rated G by la Régie
du Cinéma in Québec.
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