DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
(directed by Matt Reeves, 2014)
**** (out of 5)
> When I was a young teen, by brother Jeff and I went into downtown L.A. to see an all-day marathon of all five original PLANET OF THE APES films.
. Back in 1968, the first outing was obviously an uncontested classic of the genre. No, it hasn’t aged well in spots, but it’s still a highly effective and provocative film. The first sequel (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) was classic camp- a big step down from the first, clearly a B-film, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless. The three that followed (ESCAPE FROM, THE CONQUEST OF and THE BATTLE FOR) were breathtakingly bad D-movies. Tim Burton’s attempt to reboot the franchise in 2001 was an occasionally interesting failure with an incompressible ending. Then along came the current reimagining of the story- the third. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was released in 2011 and Rupert Wyatt seemed to gain traction where Tim Burton could not. There is no doubt whatsoever that of all five sequels, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is far-and-away the best. I would argue that it’s considerably more compelling to watch than the James Franco vehicle that spawned it.
. This PLANET OF THE APES is tense, gritty storytelling full of danger and action. The apes fare better than the humans here, (their backstories are underwritten, intentionally I think,) and this makes sense, because it’s really the ape’s film. And these combination CG/man-in-monkey-suit apes are stunning technical achievements. Again, Andy Serkis shows us that he is actually one of the very best screen actors currently working. What he does here is really amazing. Using his eyes more than anything else, Mr. Serkis gives a stunner of a performance as Caesar the genetically-accelerated chimp. Though I understand the Academy’s reluctance to go down the slippery slope of acknowledging performances that are masked/enhanced by “performance capture”, as with his Gollum and his King Kong, Mr. Serkis makes you see behind the surface exterior of his characters, and into their deepest souls- CG or no CG. Yes, his Caesar was easily among the best screen performances of 2014. It’s a damn shame the Oscar’s will snub him again, for work well deserving of an acting nomination. The FX here are huge and exciting, the stuntwork breathtaking. But the film still worked for the most part even in its slower moments. The art direction here is first-rate, as is the editing and the storytelling, about the clash of needs between humans and apes after the fall of the human species in a worldwide epidemic.
. It’s all really compelling stuff, for such a potentially silly franchise, and if the next one (and there will be a next one), is anywhere near as accomplished as THE DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES- I will not make the mistake of waiting for the DVD, but head right out and pony-up to see it on a big screen. This is BIG-SCREEN entertainment, and major fun!
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