DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
JANUARY 10, 2020
“Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” is the perfect sequel. Not only does it introduce new and exciting characters that refresh the world in which it is set, the entire piece feels like a completely new entity, with Caesar the ape (motion-captured by Andy Serkis), some of his followers including Koba, Rocket, and Maurice, and their backstory is the only connective tissue to “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” the first film in this series. Between the first and the second film, the airborne disease which killed Robert (Tyler Labine) and was passed onto Franco’s neighbor, who also turned out to be a pilot, which is dubbed the Simian Flu, is passed on and takes out most of the world’s population. The apes have started a colony in the redwoods outside San Francisco, where they were escaping to at the end of “Rise”. With Caesar as their leader and the humans dying off, they leave a peaceful existence, as Caesar and others start families of their own. Until one day, when Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes and Rocket’s son, Ash, stumble across a human on their way back from fishing. The human is the hot-headed Carver (Kirk Acevedo), a man that fears the apes because he does not understand them, and in that ignorance, he shoots before speaking.
Replacing James Franco as the main ape sympathizing character is the impeccable Jason Clarke as Malcolm. By Malcolm’s side are his son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), as well as a crew of men, including Carver. Their mission into the redwoods stems from the power running out down in the post-apocalyptic San Francisco below. Their generators are almost out of juice, but there is a functional hydroelectric dam that just needs some finesse to offer the city below the power it needs. The problem: that dam sits in the heart of the new ape colony, and the humans and the intelligent apes have had zero contact since the outbreak. That all comes to an end when the small group of humans faces off with the entire colony of apes, being told to “go away and never return”. Guess what? They return. Leading the group of humans is not Malcolm, it is Dreyfuss (all the Spielberg names are not lost on me) played by the unequivocal Gary Oldman. Happy to oblige Malcolm in his peaceful actions with the apes, he also keeps close tabs on the military arms warehouse they have at their disposal, with an even bigger obligation to the surviving humans looking to him for leadership.
Caesar has the situation under control but the apes and gorillas around him are not so certain they are safe. Koba is the biggest antagonist of the group, breaking away from Caesar’s orders constantly, filling Blue Eyes with doubt in his father, and picking fights with the humans he comes into contact with. Eventually, these actions, mixed with the actions of Carver bring peacefulness to an end, leading to the war that is promised in the trailer and the print advertising for the film. As with “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes,” the visual effects are unmatched, with motion capture offering some of the best CGI-acting I have ever witnessed. This begs the question of whether the Academy will soon be creating a new category for performances like Andy Serkis’ who brings a talking ape to life, emoting the most heart-breaking acting in any film. In 2011, there were talks of Andy Serkis getting nominated for his role, and there are talks again this year, but with the Best Actor category always filled to the brim, it is hard to see this getting the recognition it deserves. Someday Andy Serkis will get an honorary Oscar for his motion-capture work in both this and “The Lord Of The Rings” but for now we will just have to appreciate his amazing work ourselves.
Credit must be given to 20th Century Fox for seeing the potential in this franchise and giving this sequel a shot. Not only is it an amazing allegory for current day situations where factions simply do not understand one another, yet go to war anyways, it also takes a look at future possibilities, like world devastating outbreaks, the evolution of animals, and humans not understanding the world around them. Nailing every emotion on the spectrum, and nailing them well, “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” may be a science fiction film, but its richness and depth make it transcend its Hollywood blockbuster demeanor. Clarke and Oldman are Academy level stars next to one of the most brilliant actors in history, Andy Serkis, creating a sense of high profile grandeur. Keep an eye out for some brilliant cinematography work as well, including a long take of Malcolm trying to escape an ape infested apartment building and yet another long take positioned on the side of a tank turret as Koba attacks the humans. No other film could make an ape wielding two machine guns whilst riding a horse seem completely possible and not in the slightest bit ridiculous. You feel for every single ape more so than you do the humans, and that is the sign of some next-level filmmaking.
July 11, 2014
by Rick Jaffa
20th Century Fox
(for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language)