Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – 2014

Director Matt Reeves
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Screenplay Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a contemplative work that changes everything about the original while giving a stronger set of characters.  That said, instead of the useful idiots that dragged down the original, this one suffers only from an ending that gives into predictability and lazy plotting.  

This time around, the emphasis of the story quite smartly relies on the blooming intelligence of the simian community.  We get a chance to see several younger members, including Caesar’s two sons.  The older of these sons, Blue Eyes, is given a heavy moral burden to counter that of his father.  

This dilemma is in the form of humans who’ve shown up recently after a two year absence from the Muir Woods where the Apes make their home.  The human’s first move is to shoot one of the apes in fear.  From here, there can be no peace, but it does not stop Serkis’ Caesar or Clarke’s Malcom give it the good old college try.

The crux of the story revolves around the humans’ need to get a local dam up and running and the apes’ apprehension at allowing this.  Inside each group there are two factions, basically amounting to pro-war and rational progress.  The pro-fighting stance is a little difficult to buy, for the same reason as the lineup of intractable jerks in the original.  Prudence seems so much easier than putting so many at risk.  Still, through a series of well-written coincidences and some Shakespearian maneuvering by Koba (Kebbell), the conclusion of violence is steadily pushed forward along side the more reasonable folks working towards an honest resolution.

Does this make the film a bad one?  Not by a longshot.  I could watch the simian society all day, even if it means that the female characters are limited to mothers and caretakers.  Serkis’ performance is most definitely the masterwork of the film.  Seeing him interact with the steady support of Maurice (Konoval) and counter to the wicked intentions of Koba is delightful.  Reeves takes his time lingering over the the contemplative countenance of Caesar, and we see the weight of his burden in a manner reminiscent of Sean Bean in Game of Thrones.  

The story gives out in the last act.  It’s a shame.  To show a capacity to reason is one thing, but the message of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes seems to stop at, well, we are as bad as humans.  One can almost picture the visage of C-3PO saying “It’s our lot in life.”  The story starts so hopefully, that few minutes…before the first shot is fired by a human.

If this is what the series has come to, things don’t bode well for our simian counterparts in the next film.  The film makers seem to have found their way into a quagmire.  One hopes they can find their way out in the next film.

(**** out of *****)

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