Dr. Donna Copeland’s
ANDY SERKIS JASON CLARKE KERI RUSSELL GARY OLDMAN
DAWN OF THE
PLANET OF THE APES
The title is literal; this is an entirely different animal of a film than 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, although it is a direct sequel with only three of the main Apes returning. Rise was the introduction to the specifics of Apes, and Dawn is nearly all Ape and much fewer humans on screen. Apes on horseback, anyone? The visuals are jarring and the science fiction volume is turned up quite a few notches. WETA returns for some beautiful visual effects that will certainly be remembered come awards time. Andy Serkis, who invented a new career when he played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, returns once again as Caesar, the leader of the apes. His performance is the highlight of the film.
Ten winters have passed since the virus that mutated the apes in San Francisco backfired on humans and began rapidly infecting the entire planet. Throughout the past two winters, the apes, led by Caesar (Serkis), have not seen a single human. In a colony of what used to be city hall, a group immune to the infection, have survived and are looking to use the energy from a nearby dam to sustain electricity after their fuel runs out. They are armed with all the weapons and artillery left from FEMA and the military. Caesar will never forget the kindness he was shown by humans, but his fellow apes only know to fear man and their guns. Caesar must walk a fragile line between his people and the humans, who are desperate.
I wonder which film has more visual effects, Transformers 4 or Dawn; the trick here is, most of them you don’t even notice. The script poses the ultimate question about living in harmony, two species coinciding. There is an epiphany moment in the film where Caesar realizes that apes are no different than humans, and that’s the real message of the film: that there are good and bad among all species. However, that epiphany comes too late and doesn’t stop an inevitable war because, let’s face it, this is a summer action movie and there must be a battle. Since most of the screen time is devoted to the apes and their motion sensor performers, the human characters are not as well rounded as James Franco’s character in the previous.
It’s smarter than your average summer blockbuster, for sure. However, I wonder if Dawn would stand on its own if the apes were human, and if this was just another territory battle film. Would Brokeback Mountain still be an award winning, unique film if the relationship focus was heterosexual? Are there truly fantastic moments here that make it a great film or just a great Apes film? Dawn is equally as engrossing and engaging as Rise; no better, no worse. They are, however, different films structurally; they're two book ends holding the same fluid material between them. Michael Giacchino’s score for the film was off putting in the beginning, especially with the apes' non-violent themes. Oldman has so little screen time that his character is never fully flushed out, which feels like a waste of great talent.
Final Thought – Sustains the creativity and intelligence from Rise.
By: Dustin Chase
Ah, Caesar, the noble ape! And Andy Serkis makes him even nobler. This is an epic tale very well told that shows how the apes came to be in charge of our planet. Leave it to fools on both sides—humans and apes—to carry deficiencies in trust and intelligence and have undeserved power to control for havoc and war to ensue.
The scene opens to show the apes living contentedly and peacefully in their world, with Caesar the beloved leader thankful not to have to deal with humans any more—they haven’t been seen for 10 years. Humans are not faring so well, what with Simian flu wiping out millions and their power sources depleted. A group of researchers are bolstered by the hope that a dam that is stopped up can be fixed and power restored. Several go to explore the possibilities, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Much to their surprise (and to the apes’), they come upon the ape compound and confront Caesar directly. Unfortunately, Carver (Kirk Acevedo), a character who loves him his gun is ready to shoot, but is stayed by the cool Malcolm. When Caesar dismisses them with a show of force, they retreat, but realize that he is using language, which they can’t quite believe.
Back at camp, Dreyfus is ready to pull out the arsenal he has brought and simply overpower them, but once again Malcolm argues for negotiation. After all, Caesar had returned a bag to one of them that had been dropped, indicating he had some sense of its value, and is offering it as a gesture of peace. Like Carver, Dreyfus also has a nervous trigger finger, but does agree to allow Malcolm, the CDC physician (Keri Russell), Malcolm’s son, and Carver to return to the apes to negotiate a truce long enough for them to get the dam working again.
The writers (Pierre Boulle, author of the novel; Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”; and Mark Bomback) then weave a deeply textured story of the conflict that becomes a war, demonstrating in numerous ways that being animal-like (in our terms) can be found in both humans and apes, as is compassion and other humanitarian emotions. It’s fear and lack of trust that causes some to be led into war-like behavior.
Matt Reeves’ direction of this fine fable is carried out with finesse and a sense of wonder and suspense from beginning to end. Of course, we seem always to have to have the required fist fight between two males inserted somewhere along the way, as if that one action is decisive in a battle involving hundreds—which inevitably seems a bit silly to me—but other than that, the special effects and the incredible agility of the apes in bounding around the forest and city is compensatory this time.
In addition to Serkis—who is ever fabulous and deserves an Oscar—the rest of the cast is noteworthy, especially the Australian actor, Jason Clarke, who has been in movies for ages, and it’s nice to see him in a starring role. Keri Russell plays opposite him with her usual skill as does Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son. Toby Kebbell as the rebel ape Koda is appropriately terrifying and pulls off a recklessness and hatred of humans that apparently stems from his being used in human research projects.
This is a fine movie for young people to see, especially if it can be followed by discussions about what it means to be human—or ape—the horror of guns in the hands of the thoughtless and fearful, the use of animals in research, and what goes into the art of negotiation as a way of resolving conflicts.
A fine comparison of how humans can be animals and animals can be humanitarian.
By Donna R. Copeland