Sunday, July 27, 2014

Of Apes and Men


It is not what separates ape from man in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the outstanding sequel to the James Franco-led 2011 hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s actually what likens ape to man.


Because it – especially in long-simmering, misguided form – leads to tension, to treason, which is at the center of the film, helmed by Rupert Wyatt Matt Reeves, whose résumé includes TV’s Felicity and directing Cloverfield and Let Me In.

Set a long decade following the events of the first prequel, this prequel-sequel is a mostly simian affair. It revolves around the hard-fought-for-and-earned community that chief ape Caesar – the raised-by-Franco’s-now-dead character that Andy Serkis embodies and ensouls through motion-capture technology – has worked hard to build for himself and his shrewdness of bio-enhanced apes just outside San Francisco.

For 10 years there’s been a sort of peace brokered between man and ape.

The former has endured the effects of a world-population-ravaging simian flu that came after the first salvo of the ape revolution on the Golden Gate that concluded the first blockbuster (the immune few who survived have remained confined to the city, while Caesar and his have thrived in their woodland settlement), as well as those of their infighting. No contact for years has led the latter to start wondering if, perhaps, conflict-loving man has finally driven himself extinct.

Alas, he hasn’t, and soon, man and ape are at odds again.

At first because, indeed, man would think he still is the dominant species on Earth (two millennia are on his historical side, after all), although he would be wrong, natch. But then because some within the ape camp are itching for a change. For revenge.

You may remember that one of Caesar’s strongest allies is Koba (Toby Kebbell), a bonobo that also once was the subject of many a man-led genetic experiment. However, unlike Caesar’s experience, Koba’s was invasive and much more painful, and left him with some obvious and, more importantly to the plot, some deep scars that he’s not overcome. Which leads to his questioning and then, in a great betrayal, to his going violently against noble-yet-fair-and-firm Caesar’s decision to assist a group of hopeful survivors, led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm (pictured here with his new pal), in their mission to ensure their continued well-being.

Wanna know what’s so good about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? It’s the fact that it’s history, albeit history told as big-screen summer entertainment (with apes as a stand-in for the best and the most basic in man).

But it’s also like, this throwback to engagingly gripping storytelling. I mean, here you have a film that, although it has Gary Oldman and Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee playing Malcolm’s people, it is so not about them, really, but about these apes, right. How they they relate to one another and their they deal.

As you can very well imagine, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ends on the brink of a will-change-everything-definitely war, but it leaves us with a tremendous promise: More is coming, and, with the awards-worthy Serkis & Co. at the forefront it will be som’in’ to behold. 

My Rating ****


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