REVIEW: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

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While it may have one of the clunkiest movie titles of 2014, that hasn’t stopped “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” from raking in loads of praise from critics and even more cash at the box office. I have to admit I’m surprised at how this franchise has found life again. I love the original 1968 classic, but frankly this doesn’t seem like the type of series that would appeal to the modern movie sensibilities of many of today’s moviegoers. The 2011 franchise reboot along with its $480 million box office grab proved me wrong. And of course when you make that kind of money you know there is going to be sequel.

I liked the first installment of this reboot but I didn’t see it as the gem that many did. This time around we have a new director and an overhauled cast but the writing team stays intact which you can sense from the first act. In what has become a very familiar way to setup these types of films, the movie opens with snippets from newscasts explaining the state of the world since the events of the first film. Human civilization has collapsed, ravaged by the effects of a deadly simian flu which decimated the population and triggered near apocalyptic after-effects. In other words things on earth are pretty bad, that is unless you are an ape.

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) now leads a large colony of apes who live in the forests outside of what was San Francisco. These apes share the intelligence of Caesar which we see exhibited in a variety of ways. Many of the apes believe that humans are now extinct, that is until they encounter a small group of them in the forest. The group turns out to be part of a pocket of survivors living in the city. Their energy supply is almost gone and a hydroelectric dam in the forest could supply them for years. But as they learn, the dam is smack dab in the middle of ape territory which presents a very big problem.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this film are the political wranglings that take place both between humans and between the apes. Internal debates, distrust, and dissensions plague both camps as each try to figure out how to handle the other. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the head of the small group, recognizes something special about Caesar and tries to form a bond with him. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is more skeptical and he prepares the humans for war in case Malcolm fails. Similarly Cesar believes peace is the best option but his second in command Koba (Toby Kebbell) has personal animosity towards all humans and he wants to be proactive.

All of that is constructed in a way that shows the similarities between the humans and apes. In fact, that’s a central theme that runs throughout the picture. Whether it be tender family relationships or fear-driven warmongering, we see it all in both the humans and the apes. But what may be the most amazing feat accomplished by this film is its incredible way of translating emotion from the apes. Every display of love, hate, disappointment, frustration, anger, or sympathy that we get from them is incredibly…well…human. Much of it is due to the brilliant makeup and special-effects. But the true credit goes to the stunning motion caption mastery. I love hearing from people who are finally recognizing the genius of Andy Serkis. But folks let me just go ahead and say it – this is Oscar-worthy work. And Kebbell isn’t too far behind him.

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Now while the story is entertaining and never boring, it still has a few things that keep it from being truly phenomenal. There are so many familiar plot angles that we get throughout the entire movie. Honestly, I was amazed at how many things I saw that I had seen in other films. I don’t want to spoil anything , but it really stood out and it made many plot lines predictable. I also thought several of the emotional tugs were a bit obvious and gimmicky. What’s amazing about it is that they still worked for me. I knew I was having my heart-strings yanked during these instances yet I still went with them. Effective but still obvious.

Despite those gripes “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is still a highly entertaining picture. Regardless of its familiar directions the story still kept me engaged. It easily kept me attached to these characters and the film moved at an almost perfect pace. There is some great action, awesome effects, and the performances are strong (none better than the stunning work of Andy Serkis). This is yet another big budget 2014 blockbuster that delivers. I just wish the story itself went out a little more on its own.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

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43 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. The story’s definitely a tad predictable and bland, but it’s quite easy to get over when the performances are this solid and the entertainment value pushes the mistakes under the rug, so to speak. Toby Kebbell is astounding as Koba! Terrific review, Keith!

    • Thanks so much. Appreciate you taking time to read and comment. I definitely liked this movie and it really struggled between a 3.5 and 4 star rating. It does have incredibly good performances and as I mentioned I would LOVE to see Serkis get an Oscar nomination. He’s that good!

  2. I fall closer to the four than you do. I like the fact that the movie really keeps asking us to think about what makes us unique as a species. Both of the main motion capture performances were great. I also appreciated that except for the twisted by his history Koba, there are not any real loathsome villains as there were in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

    • You’re right, there really weren’t any detestable baddies. That was interesting. I guess my problems stem more from how much the story borrowed from other films. The angle with Caesar’s son, Koba’s thing (intentionally vague), the Carver character, etc. But I don’t want to leave the impression that it was bad. I really, really like it and I wouldn’t be surprised if I wrestle with the 3.5 or 4 for a while.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. The kind of summer blockbuster we don’t too often get to see. At least, not as serious as this one here. And yes, that’s a compliment. Good review Keith.

    • I’ll definitely see it again. I liked it quite a bit. I just wish it hasn’t picked soapy plot points out from other movies. That and the almost Spielbergian emotional grabs. But I stress again, very good film.

  4. Great review Keith! This is something I am massively excited about and can’t wait to see. I didn’t get to go this weekend as I had hoped, but this upcoming one will definitely see me there!

  5. Dawn handled its deconstruction of war in a most intelligent manner. I really enjoyed this too.

    P.S. The clunkiest movie title of 2014 goes to Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club.

    • It was an interesting perspective on war. It offers food for thought at least in regards to some types of wars.

      You made me laugh when mention Tyler Perry. I think all of his movie’s hold some top of clunky title honorary position, don’t they?

      • I think I maintain that A Million Ways to Die in the West is the most clunky title of ’14. That one will be hard to beat. 😀

  6. What, just 3.5?? 🙂 Well, I agree the story is very predictable but for me the emotional involvement I had w/ the main character, that is Caesar, kind of makes up for it. Thus I’m more forgiving and still give it a high rating. For example, the part when Caesar watched the video of him w/ Franco’s character before the battery ran out, I thought, ‘how convenient!’ I mean how in the world that camcorder still worked after all those years, ahah, but still it tugged at my heartstrings, and that final shot, WOW! I definitely will watch this one again… and again.

    • I guess I was taken back by how many plot devices were pulled from other films. The disgruntled son angle, Koba’s “plan”, and others. I have seen those exact same things in other films almost down to the detail. Oh, and I actually let out a chuckle at the camcorder thing. 🙂

      All of that said, I still think this is a really good movie and as I said to someone else, I have really wrestled with the 3.5. It’s still a good score but there are so many other things the movie does well. I can see myself possibly bumping this one up after I see it again (and I definitely want to see it again), but for now…

  7. I got to agree and disagree with you on some things…but glad that you loved the film as well! Koba’s plan may have been seen countless times before but his motivation is far from vague. The ape has lost his looks, mother and part of his life to humans (Rise and a prequel novel bring this up) . His lack of forgiveness makes sense and while we cannot justify his actions, they can be understood to a certain degree.

    Sure, it shares similarities with other films but these writers are smart enough to add in special touches that make it different. I have never did not want to see a war in a movie before. As for the emotional tug, I did not mind at all. I loved the birth of a monkey scene and tribute to the first film. I don’t know dude…I’m madly in love with this film haha.

    • No worries man! 🙂

      I completely agree with you about Koba’s motivations. Totally reasonable and understandable. It was his plan that was so obvious. [SPOILERS] The shooting and then blaming the humans concept has been done almost to the detail. It also made his entire story (well the rest of it) predictable.

      The emotional stuff was a little different. I do think it was blatantly obvious at times but it still had the desired effects on me. The baby ape climbing in laps, the memories captured in an old camcorder, etc. Obvious but surprisingly still effective on me. I think that’s a credit to how well the movie is made.

      • You are totally right about the plan. I guess it just works so they took that idea. However, I was glad when Koba did some unpredictable things within the plan to keep it interesting. Such as the way he treated other apes! But yeah…I see what you mean!

        Damn, I’m a grown ass man or kid…whatever you consider a 22 year old…and I was “aww’ing” away at the baby ape interacting with everything. So damn cute haha.

  8. I think I liked this a bit more than you did. It didn’t matter that it was predictable because the performances were so ïntense.

    • I liked it quite a bit but maybe just a tad less than many others. I do agree about the performances. And as I mentioned, Serkis deserves an Oscar nom. He’s amazing.

      Thanks for the comments!

  9. Very solid review Keith, the score at the end surprised me at first but I can sort of see it. There is a good bit of genericism about this story but I think it overall was very effectively disguised behind an intensely emotional backdrop and some of the strongest anti-war messages I’ve seen in a long time. This was almost propagandistic. In fact, I would go ahead and say that these points he made were a little heavy-handed and that might be where the film will slide from the perfect score I want to initially give it.

    Still think it’ll end up with a fat and happy 7/8, though. When I eventually get around to reviewing it. lol

    • You make a good point. The more I think on it the anti-war message is glaringly obvious. It does frame it’s position with a bit of naïveté, but it does give some food for thought.

      This is definitely one I hope to see again soon. I’ve really leaned towards a 4 star score but haven’t gotten there yet.

  10. I enjoyed this movie far more than I ever expected to. What you brought up about political wranglings – that’s what really got me about this movie. I thought it was really interesting to show the idea of both humans and apes struggling with the same issues. I think watching how both the humans and apes dealing with distrust, fear, and the desire to fight (somewhat out of ignorance), was what made the movie most interesting to me. That, and of course the visuals, with Andy Serkis just doing a fantastic job, made me enjoy this movie more than I thought I would. I think you gave it a very fair review.

    • Serkis blew me away. It think this is the time that the Academy get over their hesitations and consider him for an Oscar nomination. Stunning work by him. Then again the entire cast was strong.

      • I agree – I’m not sure what kind of category he should be put in. I thought for a while that they should make a new category for actors like him, but then again, who else would be in that category? I really think he needs to be given credit. It’s funny how long he can play these types of characters and get nothing for them. Think back into the very early 2000s when he was playing Gollum in the LOTR trilogy . . . he’s still so talented with that type of role today!

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