July 21, 2014

Movie Mondays: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Written by: Aaron
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It's always darkest before the Dawn

It’s always darkest before the Dawn

Title: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, with Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Distributed By: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Gary Oldman, Nick Thurston, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Judy Greer
Release Date: July 11, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG-13

It’s that time again readers! No, not time for another MOVIE MONDAYS, well actually yes, that too. But more importantly, time as come again to revisit… the Planet of the Apes!!! A franchise made up of eight films, a live-action television series, and even an animated series, spanning almost fifty years, this series is still going strong. The films started with 1968’s release of Planet of the Apes, which was based on the 1963 French novel La Planète des singes by Pierre Boulle. Since that first adaptation, there have been several installments in the franchise, including A LOT of comic books. Aside from also having been a Manga (Japanese comic), the series has had comic releases from nearly a dozen other publishers, including Marvel Comics and most recently BOOM! Studios.

The apes have built quite the home for themselves

The apes have built quite the home for themselves

In 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise was rebooted with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an incredible movie that was a success both with critics and at the box-office. Ignoring the “time-travel plot-line that takes mulitple movies to explain” approach of the original series, this new franchise explains the origins of the Planet of the Apes in one film. Here, human scientists are experimenting on apes to create a drug to cure human mental illnesses. They accidentally develop a drug that makes apes vastly more intelligent, that also happens to be fatal to humans. Bada-bing-bada-boom, we have a dwindling human population in a world populated by apes that are evolving day by day.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes presents a story that picks up roughly a decade after the first film, with the humans devastated by in-fighting and disease, and nearly non-existent resources. The apes, though gathering in strength and numbers, still do not consider themselves a force to be reckoned with. Neither wants a war; they want only to survive, but as tensions flare, war seems more and more inevitable.

With a much slower pace than the previous installment, this film really utilizes the slow burn to full effect, layering on the needs for both sides of this battle, ratcheting up the tension making the climactic conclusion all the more unavoidable and all the more tragic.

Meet our cast of humans... yay for Gary Oldman!

Meet our cast of humans… yay for Gary Oldman!

The acting from everyone here is top-notch. This is terrific news, considering the entire movie boils down to tensions rising between two factions of individuals and the growing rifts within each community. If the characters were unconvincingly portrayed through boring, unrealistic, unrelatable performances then the entire movie would fall apart. Despite how one might initially react to the premise of a sci-fi movie about hyper-evolved apes fighting humans, this movie isn’t about the spectacle, though rest assured it delivers in that regard as well. This movie is built on believable characterization that anchors the movie in a much needed sense of reality.

Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus is the only human character given any sort of development. But one supposes that it’s more necessary to explain the motivations of the “villain” than the heroes. Furthermore, it can easily be argued that his character isn’t REALLY a villain, but in fact a very noble human, every bit as good as his counterpoint, the main human Malcolm. This leads me to my other point of praise; which is that there are no purely villainous “villains” in this film. The few villainous characters in this film aren’t your standard moustache-twirling, stereotypical, flat villains. Whether it is hate-filled distrust or unrelenting grief, they all have believable motivations for why they do what they do,

Malcolm's wife and son bonding with the apes

Malcolm’s wife and son bonding with the apes

Jason Clarke gives a serviceable performance as the lead human, Malcolm. Russell and Smith-McPhee do well in their roles as his wife and son respectively, providing his emotional anchors and allowing their compassion to show in every scene. In fact, none of the human characters’ actors perform poorly; with the parts they’re given, which leads to one of my only complaints about this film. The humans are all written as rather one-note, walking archetypes. They’ve all got one setting and they never deviate from it, which puts a limit on just how well an actor can deliver a performance.

While on the subject of acting, the motion capture technology used in this film is every bit as good in this film than the last, if not better. Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell give unbelievably outstanding performances as the heroic Caesar and the conniving Koba, respectively. In fact, all of the ape actors give stellar performances. If none of them are nominated for their performance, especially Serkis for his leading role, that would be a huge slight toward some very talented actors.

The apes blend seamlessly with the humans

The apes blend seamlessly with the humans

Pic 1) The CGI looks amazing here! ...

Pic 1) The CGI looks amazing here! …

Moreover, the talented animators and special effects artists who help make the apes come alive deserve all the recognition they can get. That is, for the most part. There are a few scenes where the apes don’t look as convincing as they should. I’d say about 95% of the time, the ape characters are given amazingly photo-realistic animated life, but there are a couple of scenes where there is a significant drop in quality for the CGI. One such scene involves Caesar and his followers finding a gun that a human has smuggled into a meeting between the two parties. Just something about the way the apes are rendered, makes it look almost as if the animators never got to put the finishing touches on this scene.

Pic 2) ... Here... not so much

Pic 2) … Here… not so much

Don’t worry too much folks, for this is more of a backhanded compliment than complaint. The scenes that look “unfinished”, for lack of a better descriptor, still look rather good, and are only noticeable because of how flawlessly the apes are rendered in every other scene. There are quite a few scenes where one might think they filmed real apes.

Aside from the aforementioned underdeveloped human characters, and the few moments of less than stellar CGI, this critic is hard-pressed to find any other aspect of this film to actually criticize.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and really the entire Planet of the Apes franchise is one of those series where you either like it or hate it. The premise is undoubtedly hard to swallow for some. However, the back-story and explanation given in this rebooted retelling is far more believable than the past series. If you’re willing to accept the premise and suspend your disbelief, then you’re bound to have a great movie-going experience. If not, then you’re going to miss out on amazing performances and an even more amazing story.

Apes on Horseback! And PotA fans go wild!

Apes on Horseback! And PotA fans go wild!

Overall, this is an outstandingly remarkable film. Rarely ever do sequels live up to their predecessor and even rarer still is a sequel better than its predecessor, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shines on both counts. With only two minor complaints barely worth mentioning, this film soars in almost every possible regard. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes easily scores a much deserved 9 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger



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