Monday, July 28, 2014

Aping humanity: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES keeps rebooted franchise firmly on track

Initially, I was disappointed to hear that Matt Reeves was replacing Rupert Wyatt as director of the second in this rebooted and infinitely finer series than any of its predecessors. Although I loved Reeves' Cloverfield (the best modern monster movie of 'em all) but found his remake Let Me In simply unnecessary, Wyatt's record as director (The Escapist and the Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is pretty extraordinary. Still, Reeves (shown below) has come through with a fine and brawny sequel that puts the apes front and center and teaches us that, when it comes to apes -- just like with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Gays, Blacks and what-the-hell, Russians, Romanians and Americans -- there are good ones and there are bad ones.

Oddly, the titles of these two new(er) Apes movies ought to have been reversed. Clearly the first one was the "Dawn" and this new one constitutes the "Rise." But Hollywood has always been pretty terrible regarding handing out movie names, so we shouldn't expect much here. (The penultimate film in this series will probably bear the title, "The End of the Planet of the Apes," while the final film will be called "Return to the Planet of the Apes.") Because Dawn takes place around a decade after the "Simian Plague," as it has come to be called (and which was seen beginning right at the end of Rise), has decimated human kind, the movie sports an apocalyptic look -- all blues and greys and smokey fractures.

The apes are now more or less in charge and can live without the kind of needs -- fuel and electricity and such -- that humans require. Yet the human base that remains in the San Francisco area must somehow get to and make active again the dam that resides in ape territory, which could provide much-needed electrical power. This "quest" pretty much provides the plot of the movie, as well.

It also provides the conflict that arises between the two leading apes -- Caesar (Andy Serkis, above) and Koba (Toby Kebbell, below, left) -- both of whom we met in the earlier film. The former was raised in a loving environment, while the latter was subject to constant abuse for much of his earlier life, and this now marks the enormous difference between the two, as they begin to vie for power.

The humans we meet (shown below, left to right, are Kirk Acevedo, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Enrique Murciano) don't register as strongly as did most of the characters in the earlier "Rise." No fault of the cast, which also includes Gary Oldman (shown at bottom). It's simply that this movie is much more ape-inclined than human: It's the simians' story.

And it's a good one -- fast-moving, exciting, propulsive. If there is nothing here as occasionally joyful or moving as the earlier film (Caesar's last line of dialog, for instance, regarding "home"), this is because "Dawn" is darker in every way. The worst has happened to mankind. We shall see, in the movies that continue this so-far excellent re-boot, if and how humanity struggles to regain a place at the table.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes -- from 20th Century Fox and running two hours and ten minutes -- is (or recently was) playing at a theater near you, in both 3D and 2D (we saw the latter). If you don't catch it now, it'll look plenty fine, come its Blu-ray debut later this year.

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