Friday, August 15, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

One of 2011's big summer movies was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and it was absolutely amazing. Like most blockbusters it left a big opening for a sequel, and this year it finally arrived. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) did more of what made the first one so good and was a logical progression in the storyline while paying homage to the original classic.
Ten years after his escape from captivity Caesar (Andy Serkis) heads a vast colony of apes and chimps living a self-sufficient life in the woods outside San Francisco. In the city itself, a depleted group of Simian Flu survivors struggle to exist; their best hope being to revitalize a hydro-electric dam which will restore their power. However, to reach it they must pass through Caesar's domain. Group leader Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Caesar have a mutual respect which allows the restoration to take place. But Caesar's embittered lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell), a victim of animal experimentation, has no faith in humans and usurps Caesar, plotting a full-scale attack on the city, most of whose inhabitants regard the apes as savages responsible for wiping out most of the human species. It is down to Caesar and Malcolm to join as voices of reason and re-establish peace to benefit both camps.
The story here is more complex and engaging than what the synopsis above suggests. The movie, at first, looks predictable, and you think you know where the story is going to go. But then it goes in a different direction, and by the time you think you know how it's going to unfold, it goes in another direction. It takes us in logical directions and remains interesting, but you don't see the plot twists coming which keeps the story fresh and positively engrossing. There are so many fascinating plot developments that by the end of the movie you truly have no idea how it's going to end, who will win, who to root for, or indeed if the complicated conflict can be resolved at all. While Rise and Dawn are essentially independent of the rest of the Planet of the Apes movies, this is the bleakest of the Planet of the Apes movies, but it's so compelling!
Andy Serkis was praised in Rise for his acting and portrayal of Caesar. He's been lauded as the best motion capture actor there is, and with good reason. In Dawn he's only one of several actors portraying apes, and while they all do a great job, Serkis is a cut above the rest. There are several major ape characters and they all have distinct features that set them apart from the others. There are a few shots of extreme close-ups of the ape characters. These are so detailed and intricately animated, that you'd never guess it wasn't a real ape. Even when there are apes riding horses (a quintessential image of the classic Planet of the Apes movies) the apes are still proportioned and move like actual primates. Great as the human actors are, Serkis again steals the show, even though he's never seen on camera.
My favorite part of Dawn is the complex themes. War and peace are mulled over a lot in this movie. We are shown that when two sides really want to fight, it's very difficult to stop them. At the same time we are constantly shown how a populace's opinion can be swayed by its leader, for good or for ill. We are also shown that a conflict is never as simple as "us versus them." There are individuals in an ordinarily peaceful society who want to fight and will go to great lengths to persuade others to their cause, and there are also societies that have smaller groups of people who want peace and are not represented by the larger society. There's a lot of ingroup/outgroup social psychology going on in this movie. War includes many people, but it's never as simple as it appears at face value. Each individual is fighting for what they believe is right and just. The complexity of war is so beautifully captivated here; it depicts war in a negative light naturally, but shows us there's more to it than we probably assume. 
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was truly an outstanding movie. There's evident patience and intelligence to the filmmaking as well as exploring genuine ideas about diplomacy, deterrence, law and leadership. There's an intelligence and emotional resonance in the story that I'm sure anyone could relate to. The visual effects are absolutely incredible, and will have you sold on this imaginary world the movie creates. I genuinely loved this movie and I recommend seeing it; it's well worth the price of movie tickets, and certainly worth owning on blu-ray when it becomes available. Just make sure you've seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes first.

IGN did a neat featurette about acting as an ape and using motion capture in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for more info about the amazing ape characters:

What is your favorite movie that has used motion capture technology? Comment below and let me know!

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