I shouldn't have to go into a lot of detail about an unquestionable summer blockbuster that just about everybody here is going to see anyway, but the PLANET OF THE APES franchise in particular has always been near and dear to me.
Tim Burton, of course, made a fine-looking and perfectly watchable "re-imagining" a while back, but in the end it was pointless and forgettable, adding nothing of lasting value to the concept. It took RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to really re-establish a grip on the material, and while it had "sure thing" branded on it for the opening weekend at the very least, it was actually quite a risk-taker... imagine a PLANET OF THE APES movie with almost no talking apes?! I pegged that one as the start of what was going to be a truly exciting new series... and it should come as no surprise that the sequel did NOT disappoint me...
RISE was often described as a remake of sorts of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Well... not really. But DAWN certainly takes more than a mere page from the original series finale, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Most people didn't really care for that one, but that was more due to its threadbare resources than anything else... compared to the original, it was a cheapjack letdown--but I still like it. After all, you still had Roddy McDowall as Caesar, you got Paul Williams as Virgil, you got a finale that managed to come full circle and remain open-ended simultaneously... and the film made its own indelible contribution to the mythology with the intense "Ape has killed ape!" climax. If you ever wanted BATTLE with a budget, well, here you go.
It's been thirteen years since the foreboding end-title sequence of RISE, and the "simian flu" has done a Captain Trips number on the world. The community of intelligent apes is still living peacefully in Muir Woods, but a genetically-immune pocket of humanity still struggles to survive in the ruins of San Francisco. And the two factions inevitably meet. The humans certainly don't want or intend to mess with the apes, but they DO need to reach the hydroelectric dam in their territory in order to restore power to their city. And before any sort of cooperation can be established with Caesar (Andy Serkis), the apes are obliged to make a show of strength and make it clear that the nearly-forgotten human race is NOT to interfere with them. Caesar (who now has two sons) knows full well that the human race is not inherently evil and ultimately allows a small faction of their kind (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee in the main) to accomplish their mission. But of course, there are bad apples on both sides...
The character development may seem a bit slow and obligatory in the early going ("You had a daughter?") but it all pays off richly in the human and ape camps alike. The teasers and trailers fooled me into thinking that Gary Oldman (as community leader Dreyfus) was going to be the "Governor Kolp" BATTLE figure devoted to exterminating the apes just for a little excitement, but nothing could be less true... Dreyfus is no villain but an experienced combat veteran and leader who has every reason and right to protect his people, as frustrating as that might be to those seeking a peaceful resolution to the escalating situation. And in the "General Aldo" role, we have Toby Kebbell as Koba, who understandably hates humans thanks to his previous existence of torture and mutilation as a lab animal--his demonstration of how to "play the role" in order to disarm the humans in one of the best scenes is a masterful combination of deception and self-loathing. Offering a more hopeful note is the returning orangutan character Maurice (who knew sign language even before Caesar artificially enhanced the intelligence of the ape population); he's not as loquacious as Virgil, but his interplay with humans and apes alike is one of the sequel's nicest touches.
Further details would only serve as spoilers--it's enough to say that DAWN recognizes and honors its roots (right down to the human corral) while simultaneously functioning as its own... er... animal. The quality of the special effects goes without saying in this day and age, but these new ape-meisters (Matt Reeves of LET ME IN took the director's chair for this outing) paid equal attention to the characters and stories involved and have done what Tim Burton could not... PLANET OF THE APES continues to thrive for an all-new generation AND us old-timers alike.
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