Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
35mm sci fi thriller
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell
Runtime: 130 minutes
2011’s surprisingly good reboot of the Planet of the Apes story took fans and critics by surprise. It had become a compelling psychological drama that delved into the workings of the ape brain as well as the human in all new ways, dropping the false notes of the earlier franchise. It showed ape and human empathy and bonding, and yes, we are more alike than not. That was the fresh twist on an old story, but there are new twists in this outing that enhance the drama in Dawn.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes the intellectual similarity of the story’s apes to humans to new levels. Empathy, sympathy, primal and refined responses are the landscape this time out and the sense that the world is off its axis because of human actions and the ape participates in evil that is its undoing.
And that’s not all. The film might as well be an opera. It looks operatic, it sounds like an opera it has the beats and the bearing of opera. Emotions are operatic – huge, oversized, unrestrained. It’s wonderfully rich and round. It’s a charming and emotionally viable conceit.
The war between the humans and apes that devastated San Francisco and nearly wiped out humanity is in the air. Some humans survived and hide in the burned out city. The apes live in the countryside and they stay apart. It’s peace time, or so it seems which is where Dawn opens.
Unwisely, the humans are preparing to venture into ape country and restart a dam in order to make electricity. Their greedy desire to have light, sound, heating and other luxuries of the old days makes them forget that their peace is fragile. Malcolm, his girlfriend, son and a couple of technicians head up the mountain and say all the right things to the apes and get to the dam.
But the apes are once again on high alert, remembering the vicious attacks against them by humans that started the war. Thoughtful Caesar (Andy Serkis is astounding in his apelike movement, speed and bearing) is in charge, for now. He calls for negotiations with the humans while rebellious Koba instigates anger and all out death to humans. A disgruntled human lights the fuse of revolt by shooting an unarmed ape.
Ape and man are now interchangeable in their politicking and their will to survive. Two things set them apart. One is language. Well, guess what? The apes have developed language. And guns. Guess what? The apes have guns. These are the seeds of destruction of ape social restraints, followed by the collapse itself when ape kills ape.
You can cut the tension with a knife from beginning to end. As peace starts to fade, the filmmakers tighten their grip. The action, set to operatic strains, builds and builds and explodes. The final chapter might have been cut a bit as there are repetitive battles. Parents might be concerned about the murders of ape and human which are off the charts.
The imagination and spirit of the film is huge. The refined nature of this sci-f thriller might not suit the standard genre fans, but if you like meaning with mayhem, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great choice.