A Point of Geeks Movie Review
In 2011, moviegoers and critics alike were caught off-guard by the compelling Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Audiences were understandably skeptical of a franchise that had been such a big disappointment in 2001, when Tim Burton directed Mark Wahlberg in their version of Planet of the Apes. Aside from a stellar make-up job from Rick Baker and a few solid performances, most notably from Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk, Reservoir Dogs), the franchise seemed tired and past it's prime. So when audiences sat down to see the rebooted origin story in 2011, they were not anticipating the advanced level of computer wizardry, strong performances, and a dramatic character story about a chimpanzee named Caesar.
Seeing Caesar grow from a newborn with the glee of discovery everyday, to a literal prisoner, and eventually to grow into a leader was as captivating as any recent real-life bio-pic. Seeing his evolution in this next chapter is a joy to behold. Matt Reeves has directed the kinetic action film Cloverfield and the thoughtful drama, Let Me In, in which he showed he had a strong hand directing actors. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes he has reached a new plateau of film-making by combining both elements, special FX wizardry and a structured character drama, into one of the year's best films.
The film picks up ten years after the events of the last film. In an expository opening sequence, it's revealed that the virus glimpsed at the end of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes has indeed decimated the world's population. So much so, that the apes who have created an advanced village in the Muir Woods, question if there are any humans alive.
Andy Serkis is a marvel and should finally get nominated for an Academy Award for his performance of Caesar. He truly is one of the most charismatic and attention-grabbing protagonists in modern cinema. So much of this film is communicated through body language. In fact, the first part of the movie is almost entirely subtitled because the apes choose to speak in sign language. The fact that Serkis can at all times let you know exactly what is going on in Caesar's head is incredible to behold. Equally as impressive and heartbreaking is his change of character. He has lost the open-eyed wonder of his youth, due to his experiences and is now distrustful of humans. Seeing him reconnect to humanity throughout the course of the film is handled masterfully.
There are a colony of survivors in San Francisco that don't have power. This colony is led by Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight trilogy) who wants to ensure human survival at any cost. Koba is Caesar's right hand man. He has endured horrible medical experiments at the hands of scientists in his past, so his hatred of humanity is complex and understandable. These two characters mirror each other. Much like Caesar and Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), are both reflections of each other and each other's philosophy of pragmatism. The conflict doesn't always come from the mustache-twirling villain, the tension comes from the fear of not knowing who is the more impulsive person. Who is going to take action without fully knowing the consequences and ramifications of their deeds, no matter how well-intended they are.
An interesting element that Reeves explores is the evolution of the apes within their own lives. When the film begins, it is clear that the apes have mastered nature and their environment. They have complex huts and villages, tribal gatherings, and have established an education and morality system for their society. The apes seem to be almost a microcosm of human evolution. As the film progresses, they utilize modern weaponry and machinery which shows how fast they are growing and the scary potential of how they could "evolve" past humans within their own lifespan. It's a really fun notion. It will be interesting to see in the next installment if they will be even more modernized with clothing and vehicles instead of horses. The options are very open-ended.
The film is well-structured and the conflict comes from two main sources, survival and leadership. Past Planet of the Apes films were strong allegories for race relations. That element is still present in this film. However, Reeves and the writers do a great job of making the conversation even grander. The issue of accessibility to vital resources and power, is what frames the conflict between the apes and humans initially. Reeves successfully makes the subtext more socio-political, which is equally as relevant. There are many communities all over the world lacking basic resources and lacking access to something as mundane as a grocery store.
The necessity of a strong leader for both the apes and humans is explored. How far do you bend your morality to ensure your species and more importantly, your family's survival? This question is posed in many different ways throughout the film and is a thrill to watch unfold.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is simply one of the better films to hit theaters this year. Rarely does a movie hit on all cylinders offering complex characters, unpredictable story-telling, top-notch acting, focused direction and revolutionary special FX. Plus, you will leave the theater with food for thought as well. That is what going to the movies is all about.
Sources: Point of Geeks, 20th Century Fox, Total Film