Reel To Reel: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Andy Serkis (motion captured), Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Red Flags: Shootings, Apes going ape-you-know-what
This sequel to the 2011 pleasant-surprise hit Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes should carry a huge disclaimer: "No guys in gorilla suits were used in this film." I had to keep reminding myself of that as my eyes dug into this CGI masterwork that renders the 1960's Charlton Heston original even more dated and cheesy. With this film and Avatar, we have now reached the point where we can synthesize the exact characters and performances we need through the use of motion-capture technology, hardcore software engineering, and a heckuvalot of computer power. We have seen the future, and it's all on the screen.
But at the same time, this newest Planet wouldn't carry so much weight if it didn't have serious acting chops. Most of it's on Andy Serkis as Ceasar, the charismatic leader of an super-smart ape colony who must come to grips with humanity -- both his and what's out there. The movie succinctly explains what has happened in the ten-year gap since the first film, where a supervirus bred in the lab and carried by the apes has wiped out most humans. A rag-tag, heavily-armed group of survivors is living inside a tower in San Francisco, but they need power to survive, and their batteries are running out. They see hope in a small hydroelectric dam in ape territory, if they can get to it and survive.
Things don't go well from the beginning. A member of the group shoots and wounds an ape, Ash, provoking a confrontation that sends the humans scrambling back home and the apes out of the woods. Ceasar sets the ground rules: human home here, ape home there, do not come back. (Might I add it's impossible for me to hear the apes limited spoken dialogue without flashing back to old Tarzan movies I watched as a kid?) Yet one member of the human colony, Malcom (Clarke) thinks he's got the stuff to be a diplomat and he goes back, thinking Ceasar has something of a heart underneath all that hair. Good luck with that, given the influence of fellow ape leader Koba (Toby Kebbell, motion-captured), who holds a grudge against humans for all his suffering inside a lab. He'd rather get ahold of some human guns and just eliminate the problem. Also back is Maurice, that loveable huge former circus orangutan. We also get to see some ape family life: Cornelia, Ceasar's wife, and their oh-so-cute baby ape.
The film becomes a parable of trust and interspecies relationships, kicking paradigms we've seen with the famous Koko The Gorilla up a few notches. This is the kind of film Randy Garsee would've picked for a Reel Life Movie Review, provided he could have a primate specialist -- which he did for Ron Howard's largely-forgotten re-make of the original. He might've needed some more help, seeing as how this movie also flirts with the genres of war movie and western, giving us good and bad guys (or apes) to root for and against. We also have a big showdown at the end where it's on like, well, you know the cliche.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is better than it had to be, and it will do better than a lot of people expect it to be. The first film nicely exceeded our expectations. The second is doing it again while leaving plenty of room for a third and a fourth. This reboot of a classic film franchise has a lot left in the tank, and I can't wait to see where it goes.