20th Century Fox
Directed by Matt Reeves
Produced by Peter Chernin Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Based on characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Premise suggested by “Planet of The Apes” by Pierre Boulle
“Rise of The Planet of The Apes” was one of those movies that surprised me in a good way as I didn’t expect a reboot of the classic “Planet of The Apes” series to be quite that good. I appreciated how “Rise” had so much determination to be a true science fiction movie and not simply an action movie wearing a science fiction dress and makeup. And I think it succeeded. And now we have the sequel with continues and amplifies the story and it’s also a very successful movie on a lot of levels. Like “Rise” it doesn’t depend on the major battle at the end for the resolution of the issues raised by the story and the conflicts of the characters. In “Rise” the climactic battle happened simply because Caesar (Andy Serkis) wanted to take his army of formerly captive simians (now enhanced with ALZ which has greatly boosted their intelligence) out of San Francisco to live in the redwood forests north of that city. In this one, the climactic battle is the result of tragic misunderstandings and a stubborn refusal by some humans and some apes to even consider the concept of the two species living in peace.
Caesar and his colony of apes have lived and thrived in the ten years since they escaped captivity. They wonder if there’s any humans left as they haven’t seen any in two years. The pandemic known as the Simian Flu has pretty much decimated humanity. But there’s a community of genetically immune survivors still living in San Francisco who are getting a little desperate because they need a new power source.
Their only chance is to repair a power station at a dam smack dab in the middle of ape territory. After an initial misunderstanding, a human named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is able to convince Caesar of the sincerity of their request and Caesar allows them to work at the power plant. This doesn’t fly at all with Caesar’s second-in-command Koba (Toby Kebbell) who points at the grisly scars crisscrossing his body and says that they are also human work. Koba still hasn’t forgotten the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of human scientists in the name of scientific experimentation. And on the human side there’s Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) the leader of the community who promptly arms his people and gives Malcolm three days to get the juice turned back on or Dreyfus will start turning up some juice of his own. Caesar and Malcolm walk a thorny road navigating their own diplomatic relationship and growing friendship as they try to keep the peace between their respective communities. What eventually happens is doomed to failure but I think that the ending tries to say that even in failure there can be nobility.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES caught me at just the right time because I hadn’t been to a movie theater in nearly a month due to my lack of interest in a lot of the summer offerings so far. So I was starved for a good story, solid performances and eye-popping special effects and that’s exactly what I got. Andy Serkis is truly a stand-out actor. As Caesar he gives us a magnificent protagonist who earns his victories and his right to rule because of the strength of his character and the choices he makes for his people and not because he’s “The Chosen One” or destined to do so. Caesar makes his own destiny and he does it without a lot of angst or manufactured drama.
Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell (I can’t believe I sat through the whole movie thinking she was Jennifer Morrison) provide solid backup as three humans who more or less are mirror images of Caesar, his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and his oldest son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) who has a really interesting character arc of his own where his loyalties are divided between the ideals of his father and those of Koba. Much like any teenager of any race or species, Blue Eyes longs for the approval of his father but also wants to be acknowledged as being his own ape. He discovers during the events of the movie that those two goals are a lot harder to achieve than he thought. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about Gary Oldman. Well, that’s because he really doesn’t have much to do in this movie, believe it or not. That’s not to say he doesn’t make his presence known. I mean, he is Gary Oldman, after all. But this movie is all about the apes. His role amounts to little more than a cameo on steroids.
Matt Reeves showed me that he was a director worth keeping an eye on with “Cloverfield” which is the only Found Footage Movie I’d ever recommend to anybody and “Let Me In” a remake just as good as the original. Here he demonstrates that he can do big action scenes really well and most other directors could take lessons from him. Matt Reeves films his action scenes in these really majestic wide shots where you can actually see what is going on. Most so called “action” directors absolutely refuse to point the camera in one direction and insist on whipping it wildly around to the point where I can’t tell what the hell is going on. Thankfully, Matt Reeves realizes that audiences are paying to see the action. There’s a magnificent shot of of a hoard of apes on horseback firing automatic weapons as they charge the human settlement that I’m positive is a homage to a similar scene in “Lawrence of Arabia”
So should you see DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES? Absolutely. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year so far and is a sequel that doesn’t have to stand in the shadow of its predecessor. In much the same way Blue Eyes earns the respect of his father, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES earns it’s respect as its own movie. Enjoy.