Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by Alex Southey

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The Dawn of the Planet of The Apes is better than Rise of the Planet of the Apes by a wide margin, and most of that comes from their differences. Both movies have helped to revive interest in the original Planet of the Apes (the series from the Sixties) and its one-off reboot attempt with Mark Wahlberg in the early 2000s. With Andy Serkis (“Gollum” from Lord of the Rings) reprising his role of Caesar in Rise, in Dawn takes a step forward. Caesar isn’t in a learning process anymore, he’s learned how to lead and create a self-sufficient community. Community and the struggle for power are the major themes, which reflect not only on the humans in the film, but the humans watching.

Cloverfield director, Matt Reeves, leaves his mark in fine form. The special effects are incredibly life-like and there’s something Spielbergian about the constant change from light-hearted family shots and ape relationships to destruction and terror. The Jurassic Park films have also clearly had an influence on Reeves, taking from the films the general drama that comes with “unpredictable” creatures mixing with humans, and the way you can create suspense with empty shots and large sounds. Two long scenes, held for at least 10 seconds, in this film stand out. One is when the ape antagonist, Koba, hops on to the top of a tank and rides it in to the gates of a broken San Francisco. The second shot comes when, again reminiscent of Jurasic Park, the main human character—Malcolm—quietly enters the ape-guarded buildings looking for the key to saving another character’s life. The shot follows Malcolm up stairs, in through a dark building, just barely avoiding being seen by apes, and clumsily dodging and ducking enemy free-fire. Two of the most important scenes of the film, and subsequently two of the finest; Reeves’ directing is something I look forward to again in what has tentatively been called “Planet of the Apes 3”.

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The acting in the movie ranged from decent to extraordinary. It is no wonder some critics have called on the Oscars and Golden Globes to introduce a category for those performing with the use of CGI. Caesar and Koba, among others, seem so lifelike. It’s the incredible acting and mix of apes and humans that makes the film fun to go see. You want to experience the tension created by the now-thin barrier between apes and humans. Jason Clarke, who portrays Malcolm, does so with heroic conviction, sympathizing with his “enemy” and learning valuable lessons on community peace along the journey. Gary Oldman, an accomplished actor able to squeeze in to every role he’s given, plays Dreyfus, head of the regrouped San Francisco human civilization. His character rides the line of manic and headstrong, he wants to understand but never fully gets there. Keri Russell is Ellie, Malcolm’s romantic interest and former nurse. Considering her role is fairly cliché in this genre, she plays it interestingly. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Malcolm’s son, Alexander, who navigates through the typical growing pains of young adulthood and develops friendly relationship with one of the apes.

The writing was overall great. Though at some points in the movie the writers had left themselves in a spot easy to write their way out of, they took the hard road almost always. They opened new avenues to avoid the easy fallbacks that are so often seen in a summer action film. This is one of the many obvious reasons Dawn stands in a whole other category from things like The Avengers or the Transformers Series.

The film is a joy to watch. With masterful direction, great acting, and refreshing dialogue and plot lines, one doesn’t feel bored. The end of each scene comes with its own cliffhanger, constantly bringing us forward and allowing the movie to progress.

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