Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bombay, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver

Rated PG-13

Andy Serkis as Caesar
Jason Clarke as Malcolm
Toby Kebbell as Koba
Keri Russell as Ellie
Doc Shaw as Ash
Gary Oldman as Dreyfus
Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Alexander
Judy Greer as Cornelia
Kirk Acevedo as Carver

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a superb action film, surprising in its depth and perception. The film picks up some years after the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the effective and entertaining reboot of the film series.

San Francisco is now a dystopian replica of a great city. Mankind has become scare due to the virus that became a plague at the conclusion of the previous film. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now the revered leader of a new generation of apes, living outside of San Francisco in the Muri Woods. His beloved wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) has just given birth to a son, and they also have a teenage son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thornton).

A group of humans, lead by Malcolm (Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty and The Great Gatsby), encounter Blue Eyes and Ash (Doc Shaw) in the woods near the apes’ lair. Trigger-happy Carver shoots and wounds Ash, and Caesar arrives and orders to humans to leave.

But Malcolm pleads with Caesar to allow the humans to access a hydroelectric dam in the apes’ territory. The surviving humans live in a guarded tower within the ruins of the city. The city has no power, and restoring the generator is key for the humans’ survival. Caesar is hesitant but understanding, and he eventually agrees. One rule: no guns. The apes destroy the humans’ guns, but the agreement still makes Koba (Toby Kebbell) uneasy. Humans tortured him for years, and he has a taste for the power and title Caesar holds as the leader of the apes.

An action pick wouldn’t be very exciting without a full-throttle battle, which is prompted by the actions of Koba, and his human counterpart Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Koba distrusts humans, and Dreyfus is grieving over the loss of his family.

Malcolm is traveling with Ellie (Keri Russell), a former nurse, and his teenage son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Clare will appear as John Connor in next year’s Terminator reboot, Genesis. Russell, currently starring in the thrilling cable series The Americans, worked with Reeves on the TV series Felicity. And Smit-McPhee also has ties to the director, playing the lead in the 2010 horror film Let Me In, the fabulous American remake of 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. I liked all three characters, and the actors are solid. I would like to have known more about their characters and backstory, but at 131 minutes, I guess something had to give.

Serkis once again delivers a first-rate performance capture performance. His work in The Lord of the Ring films (and King Kong) makes him perfect for Caesar, the most interesting character in the movie. Caesar is wounded but compassionate, and Serkis’s performance is complex and hits all the right notes. In comparison, Kebbell is magnificent as well as the vengeful Koba, hell-bent on becoming a leader and never forgiving the humans.

Reeves does an admirable job of blending the action with the veiled allegory of the some the world’s current conflicts between nations. I say veiled, because the message is not heavy-handed, and the action and momentum of the film is in no way stalled. The film is clever and entertaining, and it’s one of the best entertainments of the summer.

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