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'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' a satisfying sequel

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: Jul. 16 | Modified: Jul. 16
'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' a satisfying sequel

Andy Serkis stars as Caesar in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’



Aside from “The Simpsons” musical parody, “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off,” you won’t find a better simian sequel than “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

While there’s no Troy McClure or a breakdancing Dr. Zaius, “Dawn” brings us, at least, one step closer to the series’ foregone conclusion. Since most viewers know where the story is heading, director Matt Reeves (“Let Me In”) naturally plays up the “how we get there” angle with surprisingly rich character development, courtesy of our resident apes.

The suspense isn’t derived so much from the plotline, but rather the audience’s investment in the story’s chief protagonist, Caesar (Andy Serkis, “Lord of the Rings”). In a brilliant, unprecedented motion-capture performance, Serkis brings a remarkable display of humanity and emotional depth to a computer-generated chimpanzee, who has more character than all of this summer’s blockbusters combined. It’s a groundbreaking performance and one that will pave the way for special effects to come.

“Dawn” opens about a decade after 2011’s also superb “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” wherein genetic experimentation has resulted in a growing population of extraordinarily intelligent apes. Unfortunately, it also resulted in the accidental release of “Simian Flu,” a pandemic that has all but wiped out humanity.

The apes, however, led by Caesar, are thriving, living peacefully in a village in the heavily wooded Pacific Northwest. With all them fluent in sign language, and some even able to speak audibly, the tribe has adopted its own customs and way of life.

All of this changes, though, when a group of humans stumbles into Caesar’s territory. Their leader, Malcolm (Jason Clarke, “Zero Dark Thirty”), is amazed at how far the apes have developed and relays to Caesar his people’s plight. A small population of humans has holed up in San Francisco, he explains, but with fuel running out, so will the chance of establishing contact with any other survivors. Malcolm and company will need to repair a hydroelectric dam, deep within the apes’ territory, if humanity is to endure.

Caesar is wary, but, being a family ape, realizes that helping Malcolm might be the only way to maintain peace. And he’s right. Malcolm’s human counterparts, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, “The Dark Knight”), are readying an attack, should the apes deny access to the dam. Others, like Carver (Kirk Acevedo, TV’s “The Walking Dead”), blame the Simian Flu on the apes and would rather see them eradicated.

The apes have their own detractors, too, specifically Koba (Toby Kebbell, “Wrath of the Titans”), who harbors an intense hatred of humanity from his agonizing imprisonment in a test laboratory, and Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston, “Not for Human Consumption”), who’s susceptible to Koba’s influence.

Ultimately, Caesar agrees to help Malcolm, establishing a fragile peace that’s threatened from the very beginning.

Since 1968’s “Planet of the Apes” revealed where all this is going, “Dawn’s” otherwise stunning action sequences lose some of their suspense. Call it the curse of the prequel. Fortunately, we’re invested well enough in Caesar and friends — a story with which we’re not familiar — to keep things interesting and, most importantly, entertaining.

The action sequences are pretty amazing, and “Apes” fans will revel in the film’s homage to its predecessors, including the iconic image of a gun-toting ape on horseback, an early glimpse of the Lawgiver’s teachings (“ape not kill ape”) and namechecks aplenty (the orangutan, Maurice, is likely named after Maurice Evans, who portrayed Dr. Zaius in the original).

Still, the film’s success rests largely on the backs of Serkis and the visual effects wizards who make this disturbing fantasy seem like grim reality. The film works best when focusing solely on the simians — in fact, the bulk of the first act features nary a spoken word — and, thanks to these achievements in visual effects, it’s entirely conceivable that the inevitable sequel could do just that. Whether or not this will all lead to a remake of the original — and, hopefully, a “Simpsons”-esque musical — “Dawn” is an undeniably fun time at the movies.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and brief strong language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.


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