To be honest I wasn’t the first guy to care for an Apes reboot, especially since the original has the best twist ending of all time and starring the legendary Charlton Heston. But Rise was better than I anticipated. Now it’s a different story where I couldn’t wait for [Dawn of the Planet of the Apes](movie:322904), even though sequels tend to be hit or miss these days. It couldn’t be farther from the truth as it’s the most thrilling, heartbreaking, thought provoking and special effects laden blockbuster spectacle I have seen in years. With so much to say and even more to show, it lays a lot on you in one viewing. With a highly intelligent script, brilliant special effects, and a story that will leave you breathless, it’s a great counterpoint to more brainless, vapid action fare like [Transformers: Age of Extinction](movie:206531).
As great as the action is and realistic the special effects are, the story really stands out more than anything; more so than the previous installment. 10 years removed from the simian flu that ravaged the planet killing billions, whatever remains of the population of San Francisco is bunkered in a compound. While the apes have comfortably built a miniature city in the woods, where elders teach young apes the laws of ape like “don’t kill other apes” and behave like a real family. Caesar now an experienced leader is now a husband and father to a rebellious teenage son, Blue Eyes. He has a number 2 in Koba, a test subject his entire life with scars physically and emotionally who detests all humans. He also has Maurice, his second in command, an orangutan who employs a more peaceful understanding when it comes to humans. They go on hunts, have each other’s backs when called, fight, argue and make up. It’s that normalcy that makes it so endearing and interesting. Relatable and different at the same time, they share the same core values as the humans do in the city.
The leader of the humans, Dreyfus is reluctant to live alongside intelligent apes but willing to do whatever it takes to ensure safety of the people. He tends to be a little less understanding of the apes, unable to get past that they’re just animals despite seeing and hearing certain things to the contrary. Malcolm doesn’t share the same sediment as the man who helped find and build the ravaged society with Dreyfus. He sees that coexistence and peace is the only way that they’ll both survive. But tragedy strikes quickly and briskly as they both become involved in war where only one can be on top. The dichotomy that cuts through both groups and pairs of leaders aches with bristling tension, as you wait for the other shoe to drop. They are both so similar while different, making their plight relatable to other world and class conflicts. The political allegories are very strong, using war as an endgame the last thing anyone needs. While not using screaming bleeding hearts from a soap box to get their views heard, it’s a more down to earth and realistic portrayal of two factions who don’t want to go to war while at the same time want to. It’s more than that showing what it means to be a father, husband, leader, follower, soldier and accepting others despite gross differences. It’s a classically told tale of betrayal, love, death and honor where the decisions made have major repercussions. I haven’t seen a movie told this well since [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973) which had plenty of political undertones and a concise story.
This was much more captivating than I ever could have imagined. You really care for both parties but especially the apes. Caesar is trying to instill a more thoughtful mindset into his son who is very reluctant as most teens are while trying to keep the aggressive Koba at bay. Then he has to deal with intruding humans who risk his leadership and society, not to mention his family. He becomes more than an ape but into an unlikely iconic hero. Although he or the apes don’t speak much since he hasn’t evolved to that level, besides monosyllabically put together words, when he does it speaks volumes as every word is powerful and meaningful. You can’t help but be drawn in to him as he lets out a fierce retort or a sympathetic understanding.
The first 15-20 minutes of the film may be the best opening of any movie I’ve seen in years. It packed so much in, revealing all that you need to see and hear. It felt like a mini movie, showing a slice of the ape life from the past 10 years against the backdrop of an epic. Director Matt Reeves has really out done himself with his latest effort. Compared to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes that is a good movie that surprised out of nowhere but doesn’t hit the levels that Dawn hits. All the more surprising since the director Rupert Wyatt wasn’t a name then. But Reeves has a several solid hits to reveal that he was more than capable of handling such a lofty sequel and reboot to a classic franchise. Cloverfield and Let me in proved to be great genre films, flipping them on their heads. What these films have in common is that they all contain a monster in the middle, a rampaging 300 foot tall beast and a prepubescent vampire. But together they contain what makes Dawn so great, using the great action sequences, tales of survival and special effects in Cloverfield and the complex relationships and emotional depth with two vastly different creatures in Let Me In. He has really shown how great he is at showing the amazing spectacle of action films while revealing the humanity in monsters. Reeves has a great handle on the content, never letting it get out of control or lose focus of the narrative.
The acting was top notch all around but it will be the motion capture that will have everyone talking as it is the greatest showing of performances I’ve ever seen. Never has it felt so real like you were watching actual monkeys on screen. Acting isn’t all just talking as the monkeys hardly speak, but emoting here is just as hard as delivering a line. Maybe more because making someone care through facial expressions is more powerful and resonant. It’s easy to read what they’re saying and what they want to say by the looks on their faces. The ability to emote such powerful feelings is Oscar worthy, which will not happen. Best special effects definitely, but not best acting. To be blunt, Andy Serkis who plays Caesar is the Michael Jordan of motion capture. He is the greatest man to ever put on a motion capture suit and the only person to rightfully represent it, showing that acting has evolved from a person playing a human character. He is strong, confident, tactful and understanding of what is around him and someone you can’t help but root for.
Tony Kebbel who plays Koba was also great, showing a tortured soul with physical and emotional scars that never healed after being a test ape for his entire life. As a violent, sadistic, psychopath he plays an integral part in Caesars hierarchy. Gary Oldman as Dreyfus plays the leader of the human camp not much like a villain but someone who never got to understand his enemy. He is great as he usually is, playing the unlikely antagonist very well. Going by what he sees and hears, he makes decisions that only help the humans but have damaging results all around. You eventually feel for him also, like the rest of the characters while not necessarily agreeing with them. Jason Clarke as Malcolm fills the role that James Franco previously had as the human who wants to understand the apes. The voice of reason among a sea of detractors, he struggles to prevent war but only finds opposition. He was good too but nothing too noteworthy, I haven’t seen that much of his work before.
The script was handled with so much care that I’m surprised it was done so well. Motivations, characters, and the story were dealt with intelligence and not an ounce of overbearing, convoluted story telling. It has all the showings of a classically told drama, just with different characters and some action sprinkled in. it eventually got hard for me to not get teary eyed at the spiraling destruction of these peoples and apes lives. Like any great story, it has loads of ethos, pathos and logos for the characters, especially Caesar who goes through the ringer.
The action sequences were spectacular and paced very well. Not once did I wait for some action to happen as the slow burning tension was more than enough to tide me over till then. The climactic battle was incredibly well done and the initial battle of apes on horseback firing M-16s may be the most bizarrely awesome sight ever to be seen on film. There are more surprises than I thought; it’s been a while since I’ve been shocked like that. They just come out of nowhere and you can’t help but say oh my god. Just when you get involved in a scene, it takes you out of it shocking you like a punch in the face. You don’t really know how to react, leaving you what to expect next. It gets really tragic and depressing that you begin to see the futility of war like many of the apes here do. Eventually it loses focus and you begin to wonder why you’re fighting in the first place. But at times you can’t wait for certain people to get their comeuppance even at the cost of lives. This may be the thing I liked most, which both sides were right and both sides were wrong, with a few assholes on both sides that needed to die. The ending left on a bigger cliffhanger than before, showing the bleak progression of a new and dark world. It’s hard to exactly say what will happen in the sequel but formula dictates that it will be bigger and more climactic than before, which is going to be hard considering how far they go with the story.
With so many sequels, reboots, prequels and remakes popping out of the woodwork with break neck efficiency, more so in the summer, it can get a little overbearing. Odd that Dawn is all four of those things, but one shouldn’t let that deter them from seeing a fresh new take on a classic. It is much smarter than anyone would ever think, with layers of complexities and enough emotional weight to take down the most resistant viewer. It has everything one could want in a movie, action, drama, special effects and intelligence. At times it felt like an entirely new movie, making one forget of its lauded history. Now more than ever, people can’t wait for a new tale from Caesar. A summer hero unlike any other who stands to rule an entire planet, not to mention the box office and pop culture. Five monkeys gallantly riding into battle on horseback, screaming battle cries while wielding dual M-16’s out of five.