Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Directed By: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee

"Ape not kill ape.  Ape together strong."

This summer seems to have climaxed pretty early.  I'd make the case that we peaked with Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past a couple of months ago.  I know that there are a few mindless moviegoers who will stand by Michael Bay's recently released Transformers: Age of Extinction, but most have been largely disappointed with the three hours of pointless explosions he's offered.  In a year where the box office is off by 20% from its record high last year, the last best hope for Hollywood to save face and sidestep the harsh reality that fewer people are going to the theaters is this weekend's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Having now seen the film, all the hype surrounding Matt Reeves's follow-up to the 2011 hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be just a smidge too much.  Simply put, the apes are strong, but not that strong.

Ten years after a human experiment to develop ALZ-113, a cure to Alzheimer's disease, went terribly awry, the human species remains devastated by the simian flu.  The evolved apes that resulted from this experiment live in the woods of California in peace.  Caesar (Andy Serkis) continues to lead the apes with his friends Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary), and Koba (Toby Kebbell) serving as his trusted advisors.  Having just recently welcomed a second son with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesar has it all right now.  Interestingly enough, the apes have seen no humans over the last couple of years, and Caesar believes them to be extinct.  He's wrong, however.  Those who are genetically immune to the simian flu have survived, and they're looking to rebuild what they've lost.

The human survivors from the San Francisco area have cobbled together a community in the heart of the once great city.  Though they have electrical power, it is short-lived.  Their generators are powered by a limited supply of fuel.  Their leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) sends a group into the Muir Woods to find a nearby dam that could be used to generate electricity for the community.  Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his second wife Ellie (Keri Russell), his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and several others enter the forest and find two evolved apes they never expected to meet.  The situation quickly escalates, and an ape is shot.  Confronted by Caesar and an army of apes, Malcolm and his group are forced to leave the forest.   At Koba's urging, Caesar leads the apes to the human colony and makes a show of strength to send a message that the humans are forbidden from entering the woods again.  Because some apes are thirsty for human blood and men are hungry for electrical power, tensions escalate and the threat of war looms over the two communities.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one solid summer blockbuster.  Marked by outstanding motion capture special effects, rich performances from its robust cast, and an engaging storyline that expands on the success of its predecessor, this new foray into the world of apes has invigorated the sleepy summer box office.  This sequel matches Rise of the Planet of the Apes in every way.  Though I have lots of love for the film and what Matt Reeves accomplishes here, I simply can't agree with the high praise the film has received from others within the film community.  Like its predecessor, it's one extremely entertaining flick, but it doesn't achieve greatness.  There's a scale and grandeur missing that keeps Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from reaching the heights of other sci-fi films.

It's all about the apes, and I once again find myself lauding Caesar and his simian crew.  That means that Andy Serkis, his fellow cast members, and the technical crew that support them all deliver the goods.  The cast members give solid performances with considerable emotional heft.  These performances ultimately allow the viewers to delve into the inner workings and psychological underpinnings of the ape community.  Technologically, the crew takes these performances and breathes life into these majestic yet menacing digital creatures.  Whether watching the apes hunt or move in militaristic formations, the apes offer a rich cinematic experience that challenges the status quo of the summer season.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention specific cast members and their individual contributions to the film.  As the powerful leader of the apes, Andy Serkis gives a smooth, authoritative performance and commands respect in every scene he's on screen.  Caesar is clearly the supreme ape thanks to Serkis.  That's not to say, however, that Toby Kebbell's performance as his cantankerous advisor Koba is anything but sinister.  Once again, Kebbell offers a savage, bloodthirsty menace who steals plenty of scenes in his own right.  Lastly, Jason Clarke gives the film the moral compass that James Franco gave its predecessor as the human Malcolm.

Though it's not the flick that rescued the summer 2014 movie season, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a damn good film that delivers the goods and freshens up the box office.  Bringing bitter conflict, rich drama, and an intimate cinematic spectacle, the chimps hit their mark.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.