I’m currently co-authoring a book about the making of movie sequels. Among the earlier ones were the very successful “Planet of the Apes” films. Five in total, they took moviegoers to what they thought was a distant planet, underneath it, back to it and then finally watched the conquest of and the battle for it. Almost three decades after the last film, Tim Burton put his very puzzling stamp on a remake/reboot/reimagining of the original 1968 film. Another decade would pass before Hollywood went back to the well with the very well done “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which did away with the time travel plot and brought the apes to us. Now that we’re all caught up, let’s talk about “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
The time is now. While the genetically evolved apes from the first film, led by Caesar (Serkis, in what should be an award winning performance) occupy the woods mankind, overwhelmed by the ravages of disease now lives in camps that were one time major cities. We find such a group of survivors in what used to be San Francisco. While on an exploration mission outside the city, a group of humans come across two young apes. A standoff occurs, broken when one of the group panics and fires his gun. The ape is only wounded but the shot of the gun brings out a shrewdness of apes (yes, dear readers, if you want to impress your friends tell them that a group of apes is referred to as a “shrewdness), led by Caesar. Caesar still remembers the kindness he received from some humans and brokers a peace between the two factions. This does not sit well with Koba (Toby Kebbell), a fellow ape who longs to battle. He will soon get his wish.
Much darker than “Rise,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” rises and falls on the large shoulders of Andy Serkis. He gives Caesar a quiet dignity and, if possible, almost makes him human in his emotions. He does not want war, even when those around him insist on it. Serkis conveys more with his eyes than many actors do with their words. From the anger or betrayal to the joy of holding his newborn son, Caesar is the strongest and best drawn out character in the film. Serkis is joined by other actors who also bring out the emotions under their computer generated fur. Kebbell is angry and bitter as Koba while Karin Konoval, as the gentle orangutan Maurice (a nice nod to the late Maurice Evans, who appeared in the original 1968 film), is kind and caring. On the human side, Clarke and Keri Russell do well as the leaders of the observation group, as does Kodi Smit-McPhee, as a young man who spends his time sketching his new simian friends. Oldman is a little over the top in his distrust of the furry fellows. Perhaps someone told him that Hollywood is actually a town run by apes.
Visually the film is outstanding. The apes and their world are rendered well as is the inner workings of what is left of the city of San Francisco. As for the 3D…once again it brought nothing to the film but a lot of blurry images in the foreground. I honestly think the process needs to be saved for animated films, where it seems to work the best.