dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_pThis completes a hat trick for the hugely talented director Matt Reeves, a 1-2-3 punch from CLOVERFIELD to LET ME IN and now the second installment of the latest APES reboot. Extravagantly sentimental, DAWN’s triumph is to successfully give so many of the animals not just physical identifiers (one has a triple scratch, another a bad eye, etc.) but also complete personalities that play out through the actors’ eyes and movements, as encased in the CGI “monkey suits”. You’re always aware of which ape is talking or signing and why they’re angry or remorseful or torn. Andy Serkis brings to Alpha Ape Caesar a gravity and command that gives him true star quality. In part, this is heightened by the casting of human leads whose blandness pales (pun intended) compared to their simian counterparts. (Jason Clarke and Keri Russell don’t exactly set fire to the screen; and neither, here, does Kodi Smit-McPhee, the lonely boy in LET ME IN.) But for all the heart-tugging — a sick mom, a son’s near-betrayal, a fallen chief — you don’t find yourself rooting for one or the other side to win, because both are responsible for the violence. As Caesar puts it, speaking to a human: “We started it, and you won’t forgive.” There are political parallels to be made, if one likes, but that’s left up to the viewer; there are no soapbox monologues. Perhaps the message is as simple as: hotheads ruin it for everyone. Mostly, you’ll be engrossed by the storytelling despite a handful of spots where it loses momentum and slows way down. (Most of these spots are in the beginning.) I have to admit, the plot took me by surprise, because it was not at all what I expected from the end of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES — when the apes, having escaped and developed their intelligence, crossed the Golden Gate bridge en masse, as the camera panned over the landscape and stopped, looking East. To me, that meant they were on their way to colonizing (and destroying) America and would end up in New York, setting the stage for the Heston “sequel”, which of course was the very first, 1968 version. Instead, the movie remains rooted in the Bay Area. Go figure. — Jeff Schultz

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES had to be superior to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES for no other reason than James Franco is not starring in the movie. The only “name” stars in this film are Keri Russell and Gary Oldman. DAWN picks up several years after RISE ends. The worlds population has all but been wiped out by the Simeon Virus. While a ragtag band of humans tries to rebuild society in San Francisco, the Apes have created their own community in the woods of what appears to be current-day Marin County. The humans explore those woods in search of a dam that could provide electricity to San Francisco. During their exploration, one of them comes across the Apes– a confrontation that results in one Ape being shot. What plays out is a parallel of international conflict. Neither side completely trusts the other. Someone has to make a grand gesture on both sides to break through prejudice. But, they are thwarted by fear mongers and those with deep prejudices. Draw your own comparisons, there are plenty out there. Some of these characters are fairly standard villain archetypes, the difference is that some are cloaked in CGI ape garb. That is what makes this film so remarkable. At some point I stopped looking at the Apes with that “gee, how did they make them do that” and just bought in to the whole thing. The credit goes to director Matt Reeves and the actors who portray the apes. Andy Serkis has either created a whole new style of acting, or brought the craft back to its roots. He says more with his eyes, facial expressions and movement than some actors could with six pages of dialogue. He seems to have taught his fellow “Apes” the technique, because they are all fantastic. But Serkis as Caesar is the master. He speaks more than the others, but even his few words delivered in a strained growl are vital to the story and performance. Serkis has done this before in King Kong and The Lord of the Rings trilogy most notably. The Academy needs to put aside its prejudice and recognize Serkis for what he is.. a groundbreaking talent. That talent and the skilled hand of Reeves are what elevate this above the usual summer blockbuster. It’s more than just a collection of set pieces and CGI wizardry. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is worth your time and money. — Alan Yudman



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