Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

7/12/2014 Stephen Colbert 0 Comments


Stemming from a subplot of Rise of the planet of the apes, a virus breaks out and spreads across the globe causing massive casualties.  During the 10 years between Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, what's left of humanity tears itself apart, fighting over land and resources.

Meanwhile, Ceasar and the rest of the apes he leads have not had contact with humans for several years, thinking they may have died out.  That all changes, however, after a human remnant from San Francisco comes into their territory looking to restore an old hydro electric dam.  With a focus on survival, trust is a hard thing to give when the safety of friends and family--for both humans and apes--hangs in the balance.

First of all, other components aside, the motion capture advancements alone make this movie a stand out.  I don't know if Any Serkis will finally get recognized as an actor for his performance, but the apes in this movie are exceptionally authentic.  Definitely a far cry from the Planet of the Apes of old.


The rest of the world is an fully realized visual spectacle as well.  I went to see it in 3D, not expecting the format to be strongly utilized, but there were some phenomenal (even powerful) incorporations of 3D into the cinematography.  Director Matt Reeves did shoot the film in native 3D, so it's clear many shots were framed with that in mind, yet it doesn't feel overused or gimmicky as happens in some films.

Needless to say, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a type of rare visual spectacle that is awe inspiring without being gratuitous or distracting.  The advancements in motion capture technology especially are impressive and raise my excitement for the launch of Andy Serkis's Imaginarium Studios and the films that will be utilizing it for motion capture, such as Animal Farm, Jungle Book, and Star Wars Episode VII.  The success of Planet of the Apes might even convince Marvel Studios to finally try another standalone Hulk movie.


Although I was more than satisfied with the movie from a visual and directorial standpoint, the script from writers Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver was both well paced and dramatic.  The realization of not only individual characters, but also distinct societies was excellent.

The story does a phenomenal job of addressing prejudice without running into any classic clich├ęs.  It also plays very well off of the audience's desire to view it as humans vs apes, but manages to tell a story about people.  There are good people and bad people.  Good apes and bad apes.  Categorizing an entire group--or even a single person--based on the actions of the rest of the group isn't fair.

Especially in today's society, it seems like everyone wants to put everyone else into little boxes based on ethnicity, geography, religion, politics, and any other distinguishable characteristic, and then cast sweeping judgments onto each of these artificial boxes based on the actions of a few, or vice verse.

Of course, it's hard to maintain credibility when you're addressing weighty issues with talking animals.  The dialogue is very well balanced, with the apes speaking in sign language (with subtitles) most of the time, using vocals for only moments when volume is necessary, such as addressing large groups or when speaking with humans.  This is difficult to pull off without at least bordering on absurdity, as evidenced by both the original 1968 film, and the 2001 reboot, although both of those did admittedly tackle the ape civilization in a far more advanced stage.


Of course, pulling off this script depends on excellent acting, which was provided by both the human and motion capture actors (which Andy Serkis would contest are the same thing).  The distracting uncanny valley and awkward blue screen acting that usually results from CGI in movies like this is entirely absent because of the excellent use of motion capture, which also allows the actors to actually act like their characters, instead of also having to worry about pretending they are interacting with someone that isn't there.

I've already raved about Andy Serkis enough, but his performance along with the performance of the other ape actors is what really made this movie work.  Don't get me wrong, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell were all excellent in their parts, but Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston, and the other apes are the ones who truly made this movie work with their performances.  They not only did a phenomenal job learning the ape movements and behaviors, but the nuanced facial expressions and body language truly gave the emotion of this movie the legs it needed to stand.

All other areas of the movie were solid as well.  Obviously I'm calling out the parts that stood out to me, but there were really no major detractors.  To be honest, I hardly noticed Michael Giacchino's score for most of the movie, but it was solid and moving where it needed to be, and obviously not distracting or overpowering.


It's not often that I'd like to rewatch a movie immediately upon completion, but I definitely got that from this movie.  I may try to get a second viewing in this weekend.  This is likely my favorite film of the year at this point, despite some stiff competition.

At the end of the day, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a movie that is thrilling, beautiful, and dramatic, all while breaking technical barriers.  I would list it as a must see.  It doesn't absolutely depend on a familiarity with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but I would strongly encourage seeing them both.  It is rare for a franchise--especially a reboot franchise--to achieve this level of quality for both the first installment and the sequel.  Matt Reeves is on board again for number 3, and I will be there ticket in hand when it opens.

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