One of the best and most beloved science fiction movies of all time is 1968's Planet of the Apes. But while the original, Oscar-nominated flick is outstanding, its follow-ups have been less than stellar. There were three poorly regarded sequels and a reboot that, despite the talented cast and director involved, was universally hated.
Then came the 2011 prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes starring James Franco and Andy Serkis. The ambitious story line told the beginning of the intelligent apes as well as the virus that wiped out most of humanity. That film was very well received, scoring an 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and was commercially successful enough to bring about this summer's blockbuster sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Summer 2014 has delivered some excellent movies thus far, with the obvious top three being X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow and 22 Jump Street, but none have been better than Dawn. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the first must-see film of summer as it is not only one of the best of the season, but one of the best this year.
The story takes place eight years after the conclusion of Rise with Caesar (Serkis, The Lord of the Rings) now leading a growing settlement of intelligent apes. The apes wonder if there are any humans left, as they have not seen any for two years, when they come across a scouting party from a settlement in San Francisco.
These intrusive humans are trying to repair a hydroelectric dam so as to restore power to the settlement. They are turned away by the apes, but one among them (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty) returns to try and reason with Caesar.
He is successful and the humans are allowed a short stay to work, but all is not well between the two camps. Both sides harbor great animosity towards the other and it isn't long before their relationship deteriorates into the action sequences showcased in the film's marketing.
Dawn succeeds in everything it attempts to do. The story strikes the perfect balance between ape and human drama (read: heavily favoring the apes) and manages to keep everyone on the edge of their seats with a unique brand of political drama and ape-centric action.
As with the last film, there is far less action than the trailers would lead you to believe, but just as before that is in no way a bad thing. The real drama of the movie is the ape's and human's struggle to coexist, given each sides blatant distrust of the other. There's a real sense of urgency to accomplish the human's goals because of the sinking feeling that peace won't last very long.
With Caesar and his family front and center, fans get treated to a master class performance from Andy Serkis. It's high time his motion capture work has gotten some recognition and this outing may be his best effort yet. He does nothing short of bring Caesar to life, and you can feel his influence on the other actors around him, particularly Toby Kebbell ("RocknRolla") who plays the violent Koba.
The ape drama and their world as a whole is fascinating so it makes sense to have them play the largest part of the narrative (take notes Michael Bay). However, the humans are no slouches either. They are given less screen time and are far less developed but they each have roles that highlight the similarities and differences between them and the apes--from the near foils of Koba and Carver (Kirk Acevedo, Fringe), and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises) and Caesar, to the eerily similar arguments both sides have about the other species. It all contributes to an interesting take on xenophobic themes with neither side being intrinsically good or bad.
Oldman in particular gives a stellar performance. His character can't have been on screen for more than 20 minutes, but he steals every scene he's in.
In addition to the superb acting and writing, what viewers will walk out blown away with is the special effects work. They aren't over the top and in your face like Transformers, but they are truly spectacular. Days later I still can't get several hauntingly vicious images of Koba out of my head.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
If you aren't sold yet, here's the trailer for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."