So far, most of the reviews of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes have been pretty good, but there have been more bad reviews than I would’ve expected. Memo to bad reviewers: Get over it. This is Planet Of The Apes, not Citizen Kane. You have to take the movie on its own terms.
Now that I think about it, though, this could well be the Citizen Kane of the Apes series. This is the eighth installment, and Michael Seresin’s fearless style of cinematography sets it apart from all the rest. Seresin blends odd angles with relentlessly dark colors to create a moody, unstable environment for the plot, which begins some eight years after the end of 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. His off-balance shots of dozens of apes swinging through trees at an alarming pace makes the viewer very uncomfortable, in much the same way as Orson Welles and his cinematographer Gregg Toland did during their unorthodox filming of Kane. Even the 3-D effects, which in many films get in the way of the story, are used somewhat sparingly and to good effect in Dawn.
Director Matt Reeves, to his everlasting credit, takes the material seriously and sees to it that every cast and crew member does the same. The result is an intelligent tale of a world wracked by simian flu, killing off most humans, and allowing the apes to develop a well-organized society, complete with family units, schools, the beginnings of a written language, and weapons. When a small colony of humans is discovered (they were “genetically immune” to the flu, it is explained) in what used to be nearby San Francisco, tensions mount.
Caesar, who has ruled his band of apes for the eight years since the end of Rise, is respected and loved by his followers. He wants peace with the humans, who seek to reopen a hydroelectric plant at a dam near the ape colony. However, his right-hand man, Koba, has different ideas. Unlike Caesar, who was raised by humans and has learned the love they are capable of, Koba was raised in a lab, where he was tortured and disfigured for experimental purposes. He sees weakness in the humans, knowing they cannot survive without the power the dam will provide, so he advocates war, regardless of the cost to the apes.
Andy Serkis, who played Caesar in Rise, gives a tour de force this time around. He is clearly the star of the movie and achieves an emotional trajectory I would not have thought possible for someone wearing such heavy layers of ape makeup. He gives real dimension to Caesar’s wisdom, yet stands up to Koba when necessary in a very believable way.
The action, ironically, slows down when the humans take over the screen. This may be intentional, though, so we don’t forget the apes are the real focus of the story. Even when the power comes back on, and little stores open up in San Francisco and music plays through speakers, Reeves and Seresin keep the viewer at a distance.
Needless to say, the ending leaves the door wide, wide open for another sequel, one of ape-human armageddon, which is already in the works. It’s scheduled for release in 2016.
Recommendation: *** 1/2 (out of 4) Go see it before it leaves, and see it in 3-D. This is easily the most outstanding entry in the Planet Of The Apes series.