Hail Caesar! This remarkable sequel plays no second banana to 2011?s surprising hit “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The motion capture technology is technically astounding and 3D action viscerally exhilarating. But for those who care, serious issues of diplomacy are pitted against the primitive instincts of humans; uh, and also apes.
With a dystopian San Francisco as its backdrop, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is meant to be enjoyed by the masses as the simmering action-thriller that it is. Director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”), with screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback, allows the audience to accept a premise of transformation, where apes develop increased intelligence, emotional sensitivity and a sense of moral superiority.
This blockbuster stars Andy Serkis (“King Kong”) as Caesar, leader of the rapidly evolving primate world. This three-ring Serkis is convincing as the powerfully benevolent Caesar, a leader with the ability to potentially bridge conflicting civilizations.
If you remember, a devastating virus has nearly wiped out the human race. Meanwhile, the primate species has evolved into the ruling class of this earthly kingdom. After a long decade of devastation, when they assumed humans had become extinct, the apes discover a tribal band of human survivors that could threaten their peaceful land.
Led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), they reach a guarded truce with Caesar, who reminds his community, “Apes together strong!” But, also proclaims, “Apes do not want war!” His lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell) distrusts humans and misinterprets the gesture. He angrily denounces, “Caesar loves humans more than apes!” Later, we half expected Caesar to utter, “Et tu, Koba!”
This story is presented so well, the filmmakers effectively make us forget the conflict is with a bunch of chimpanzees. As we all know too well, the fight is rarely between varying civilizations, but all too often between negotiating pragmatists and war mongering factions on each side. We find ourselves rooting for the apes as much as the humans.
It’s not just chimps vs. chumps. In such cases, so many are unreasonable, irresponsible or simply fearful. Others have legitimate reasons for taking such a hard stand against others. At one point, it’s an ape who says, “Think before you act,” causing the demise of talk radio. Therefore, as always, peace proves to be short-lived and they are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.
“Dawn” is a powerfully absorbing sci-fi action film with awe-inspiring big budget effects, but it plays out equally well as a thoughtful and poignant political drama where the social conflict and political unrest seem ripped from the headlines. Fortunately, in this message movie, the audience doesn’t feel manipulated or sermonized, just entertained.
Now, this series of prequels brings us ever closer to the starting point of Charleton Heston’s iconic “Planet of the Apes” (1968). This entire series not only gives us something to think about, but also to care about their situation, which, in so many ways, is also our own. Keri Russell rounds out the cast as Malcolm’s love interest, Ellie. Reeves cast Russell in this role 15 years after originally casting her as TV’s Felicity (1998).
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a fast 130 minutes and rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and brief strong language. This well-crafted epic is fully committed to its preposterous premise by delivering this allegory as an intelligent storyline, with sincere acting and meticulous GCI effects and settings. This installment leaves a satisfyingly bitter aftertaste, leaving us hungry for the whole Magilla.
It’s quite a sight to see chimps so majestically riding horseback. We once saw a cowboy-dressed monkey ride a dog at a rodeo, but it wasn’t quite the same. Amongst the action and messaging, there is a good bit of humor. No, none of the apes were named, “Harry,” and their lair wasn’t called, “San Simian.” But when the ape’s moral superiority over humans is tested, the conclusion can only be, “Monkey see, monkey do.”
Ron’s Rating: A- Leigh’s Rating: A-