Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise hit in attempting to reboot the Planet of the Apes series by explaining how the seeds of humanity's destruction were sewn and the steps which led the apes to eventually become the dominant species on the planet. The first film has a few plot holes that still nag me, and although I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes it hasn't been a story I've returned to or have given much thought to seeing expanded in sequels.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of the first film with the sly observations on gun violence, race relations, and how militant individuals can spur on a war which isn't necessary or beneficial for either side. It also has the same types of nagging plot issues that Rise was saddled with as the script relies on some awfully stupid decision making by characters acting against their own interests (such as including a militant human, a one-note character played by Kirk Acevedo, who just shot one of the apes as part of a diplomatic mission the success on which humanity's survival hinges).

Although it's alluded to late in the film, the sequel largely ignores the core relationship of the first film between Caesar (Andy Serkis) and scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) other than the fact it gave Caesar a more rounded view of humanity than many of the lab-test apes. Instead the film is split equally among the Cesar-led ape civilization and the tattered remnants of humanity holed-up in San Francisco. Despite the distrust of the two sides, the heroes of the story are Caesar and his most loyal subordinates and a small group of humans (most notably Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee) who are sadly the minority as each side has more radical members pushing for a bloody conflict and far too many willing to follow once the first shot is fired.

Although the story is a build-up to the eventual eruption of an all-out war between humans and apes, the film spends much of the time on the inner conflicts of each group as the actions and beliefs of Caesar's distrustful lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell) and his strike first attitude which are mirrored the same behavior of the humans' elected leader (Gary Oldman). Caesar and Jason Clarke's character realize a war between the two species ultimately benefits neither of them, but neither will be able to stop the tide once the conflict begins in earnest.

Much like the first film, the sequel works while playing with thinly-veiled themes and philosophical ideas but it isn't ultimately as engaging or entertaining as you'd expect on an emotional level. And for a pair of movies about crazy monkeys fighting humanity there's not much in the way of cheesy fun to be had. Despite its nagging script issues, the film is well-made. Director Matt Reeves delivers a solid sequel which builds upon the groundwork laid in the first film and further develops the world in which Caesar and his followers will eventually rise to power over what is left of the human race. And the visual effects fully realizing and bringing the apes to life continues to astonish. And, hey, at least it's a better series than those new Star Trek films.

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