Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dotpotaThis is the follow up to the sleeper hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That film chronicles the early life of Caesar, a genetically modified chimpanzee who leads a revolt and escapes with his fellow simians into the forests of Northern California. It also, almost as a subplot, shows us the release and distribution of a virus so lethal that it nearly kills of all of humanity. As a modern reboot of the much beloved, yet campy, Apes films from the 60s and 70s, most people were surprised at how freaking good it was.

Much of that praise is reserved (and rightly so) for Andy Serkis, the motion capture guru who embodied Gollum in the Middle-earth films, and King Kong the recent (and disappointing) remake of that classic ape tale. He returns to the role in Rise, now the leader of this ape community in the woods. A remarkable amount of time is spent early in the film showing us their lives and introducing us to Caesar’s family.

But, as you must in any Apes movie, they soon introduce some of those damn, dirty humans. Jason Clarke is a fix it guy for a group of survivors living in a ruined San Francisco. He has a girl (Keri Russell) and a kid (Kodi Smit-McPhee). His boss, the leader of the city, is played by Gary Oldman (playing more at the Professional end of his range, rather than the Tinker Tailor end).

The humans are on the brink of running out of power, and they come up with an idea to jump start the generator at a nearby dam. Unfortunately, the dam is in ape territory.

What follows is a tense interplay between two extremely wary populations. Neither trusts the other, but they can’t simply ignore each other either. The film could have made the apes the bad guys (as they seemed to be in earlier incarnations of the story) or it could have made the humans the bad guys (as they seemed in the previous film). The filmmakers took a trickier path by making the essential conflict not between humans and apes, but within each of the respective communities. There are good apes and bad apes. There are good humans and bad humans.

Yes, you get the exciting battle sequence with chimpanzees firing automatic weapons on horseback at humans. And, yes, that’s an incredible piece of film making. But the ending is a more complex and resonant piece of action/drama than I could have anticipated.

I hope they didn’t write themselves into a corner, and that the third film (I’m assuming there will be a third film) will up the awesome even more.

Jason Clarke was in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with James Franco. James Franco was in…

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