Movie Review: It’s Ape-pocalypse time in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

3stars2ape“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an action-packed epic, a moving sci-fi allegory rendered in broad, lush strokes by the latest state of the computer animator’s art.
Yes, you will believe a chimp can talk, ride a horse and fire a machine gun. These evolved animated apes have fur with feeling, expressive faces, fangs and eyes that show them well on their way to being human. “Dawn” illustrates the accelerating pace of improvements to CGI as these apes — with performances built around motion-capture-suited actors Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell among others — in sequences so dazzling your jaw will drop.
It’s all in service of an utterly conventional story, however, one you’ll be three steps ahead of even if you have no memories of the ’70s “Apes” movie (“Battle for the Planet of the Apes”) this is largely based on. If you’ve ever seen a cavalry-vs.-Indians Western, a war movie built around pacifist efforts that ask “Can’t we all just get along?”, you’ll see this genre piece’s plot twists coming.
In a brisk opening credits sequence, we see the world’s collapse post-“Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” “The Simian Flu” felled much of the human race, snippets of newscasts from around the world tell us. Few survived.
Meanwhile, the first scientifically-evolved ape Caesar (Serkis) has led his tribe into the Muir Woods, where they’ve built a village, mastered fire, SSL (Simian Sign Language) and horseback riding, isolated and safe from human interference.
“Humans destroyed each other,” Caesar counsels. So apes must live by a higher code.
“Ape not kill ape.”
Then some humans, led by the curious and compassionate Malcolm (Jason Clarke) encounter the colony. Caesar strikes a pose at the head of his legions, and the humans, even though they’re armed to the teeth, tremble. The Ape in Chief doesn’t stutter when he issues an order to the intruders.
Of course, the humans have need of something within ape territory. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is ready to arm the troops and invade. But Malcolm, his Centers for Disease Control girlfriend (Keri Russell) and sketch-pad happy son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are given a couple of days to work out a treaty, get the electrical power back on and save humans and apes from what is sure to be a bloody war.
Director Matt “Cloverfield” Reeves and his team make good use of 3D space as we see apes swinging through real trees in the Muir Woods, and by power lines through digitally-rendered ruins of San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge.
They get less use out of the cast, with Clarke playing a cardboard cut-out, Russell given nothing to do and Oldman’s character watered-down to the point where he’s no challenge to Malcolm’s overly-trusting pacifism. Hints of the family they’ve lost, the grief they carry, are just that — hints.
There are advocates of violence in both camps, and the paranoid have a point. Trusting the other side could lead to human or simian extinction.
Make your own Middle Eastern, race relations/racism or gun culture allegories here, because the script leaves plenty of room for those interpretations. Wary foes stare each other down as they, and we, wait for some hothead’s miscalculation (or calculation) to ignite a war.
There isn’t much time for humor, but a few moments have apes mocking human behavior. And if you’re not a little amused by the sight of an chimp, on horseback, firing two assault rifles as he gallops into battle, you’re taking this too seriously.
It’s hard to know who to root for, which was always the point of these movies. Yeah, we’re obligated to hope humanity doesn’t go extinct, even if we brought this down on ourselves. But the “Apes” in “Dawn” are awfully darned appealing, learning the hard way that ape lesson of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”– that murder and treachery are the traits that make us, and them, most human.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
Credits: Directed by Matt Reeves, scripted by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback, . based on the Pierre Boulle novel. A Fox release.
Running time: 2:06

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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8 Responses to Movie Review: It’s Ape-pocalypse time in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. woodsky says:

    You are one of the worst critics around. Don’t know why the providence journal uses you. You gave Avengers a crappy review. Now you’re nit picking Dawn. When most or all the critics are praising the performances in the movie.You said Jason Clarke is a cardboard cutout and everyone else liked his performance. Do you know something they don’t know?

    • You didn’t even read the review, did you, bright eyes? It’s a positive review. And your memory of my review “Avengers” is…faulty. Look it up. Back to your comic books, deep thinker. Reviews have too many, um, “words” for you to process.

  2. Pfft says:

    Roger is a comic book snob even though comic books are scripts complete with storyboards.

    • Actually, they’re not. Ask any comic book creator, screenwriter or storyboard artist. On the other hand, the idea that they’re rough drafts of real stories with real characters? Yeah. Sure.

  3. Dee says:

    “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” deserves a better review. The scenes where it explodes into becoming like “Planet Of The Apes” with the humans being rounded up and caged are incredible. Comics are not rough drafts of stories. You’re entirely wrong. They are episodic and tell a greater complete story within the span of their monthly issues. Comic book writers write final drafts of their scripts and plan the story for monthly release in advance. You don’t know what you write about.

    • Oh? Have you interviewed Stan Lee, Frank Miller, the fellows who wrote “Men in Black” or “Surrogates,” among others? They were quick to correct me for suggesting comics are storyboards for films, merely requiring a director to flesh them out. “Rough drafts,” impressionistic sketches of stories, characters, etc., not conveying as much information as a novel or short story. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it. You don’t know what you’re talking about, merely trying to justify your tastes in reading matter.
      But to get back on track here, I was responding originally to someone complaining about a review plainly based solely on the Rottentomatoes blurb from that review. Perhaps suggesting he/she return to Twitter would have been more apropos, but truthfully, comics/twitter/”Family Guy”/cellphone addiction all point to a hasty, short attention span view of the world, which I have always mocked. Onward.

  4. FinalWordJones says:

    It is a positive review. But somehow it seems like a rough draft of a good review.

    • Oh, how I long for the day when the comic book culture learns enough Latin to realize that simple “ad hominem” swipes mean nothing coming from the likes of you. It’s a well-written review, reasoned, measured — pointing out the film’s serious HUMAN shortcomings. It’s not all about tone and “dark” and satiric points scored. Those, and the effects and the fact that the long, animated apes-only sequences, are spot on.

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