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Apes more interesting than humans in film

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August 12, 2014 | 01:50 PM
I should preface my review for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” with my thoughts on its predecessor.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” came as a pleasant surprise in 2011. It was a reboot/prequel that nobody asked for, but thankfully it made for a solid summer blockbuster. The best part of that film is the character of Caesar played by the incredible Andy Serkis. Motion capture technology has allowed computer-generated characters to be played by humans. An actor provides all the mannerisms of the character on set, and the performance is converted to CGI (computer-generated imagery) in postproduction. Serkis is a master of this craft having played a handful of iconic characters such as Gollum, King Kong and now Caesar.

Caesar (Serkis) is the main focus of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” The film opens with a close up of Caesar’s eyes. In his eyes you see assured dominance. Immediately he’s established as a commanding presence. As leader of the apes, Caesar, along with help from the others of his kind, has built a civilization. The intelligence of these beings is ever growing as they’ve found ways to build, hunt and communicate. Meanwhile on the human side of things, a plague caused by the apes has wiped out most of humanity. The humans in the film live in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco that’s running out of power. The only source of power that could be useful is a dam that the apes happen to live on. Our human protagonist, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), is tasked with talking the apes into letting the humans operate the dam. This creates conflict between the humans and the apes, which could escalate into something far worse.

“Dawn” is a very good sequel that improves upon many aspects of its predecessor. Director Matt Reeves, who didn’t direct “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” does a terrific job constructing plenty of memorable scenes through beautiful cinematography and edge of your seat tension. The action sequences, although they only come in the last 30 minutes or so of the film, are gripping.

Serkis gives arguably his best performance to date as Caesar. Now well respected, Caesar not only has the attention of the apes, but he also has the attention and respect of the audience. His outstanding screen presence is undeniable. This can all be attributed to the performance given by Serkis. I’d go as far as to say that Caesar is the best character in any film this year. This can also be said about the character of Koba (Toby Kebbell), a scarred and bitter ape that strongly dislikes humans (that’s putting it lightly). Who knew that computer-generated characters could be so layered?

The main issue with “Dawn” is that all of the other characters are bland and uninteresting. This is especially true when it comes to the human characters. Our human protagonist played by Clarke is given no layers whatsoever. I never once cared about his character or the other members of his family, a wife (Keri Russel) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Gary Oldman plays a man that believes the apes can’t be reasoned with. That’s about all you know about the character throughout the film. The screenplay tries to set up emotional arcs within the human storylines, but they just don’t work. I blame this on weak writing.

This film is filled with themes such as family, lack of coexistence, loyalty, burden of leadership, racism etc. These themes are very present throughout the film and they make for a very good emotional payoff surrounding Caesar and the rest of the apes. Overall, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a very good sequel with a great central character. The bland human characters bring this film down a notch, but it’s a film that does almost everything better than its predecessor.

Rating: 3/4

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