Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) (PG-13)

Man and ape. Two sides of the same story: survival.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" begins right where "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" left off, with a group of highly evolved, super-monkeys retreating into Muir Woods after having a stand-off with the humans on the Golden Gate Bridge. Post-chimpanzee frenzy, the population of Earth has dwindled rapidly because of a spreading virus known as "simian flu". The disease is so rampant that within the space of a few years, the human race is all but eradicated.
Our movie makes long pauses to hover over the ape family, it's them we are supposed to empathize with, it's them we're supposed to care for.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" sees our main monkey man Caesar (Andy Serkis dazzling once more) in control of the primates. The alpha-male of the group, he asserts himself with quiet restraint and deep thought. For much of the first third of the movie, we simply watch the apes in their "natural habitat". We see them as they hunt, as they quarrel among themselves, as they have children, and as they talk about the humans.
It's been two years since they have seen hide nor hair of a man or woman...they think that they may be alone in their paradise. But their Eden will soon be disrupted when man comes back to the forest.
A group of survivors who are genetically immune to the simian flu are on a quest to turn the power back on....here I resist making the obvious jump to the show "Revolution".
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" grounds itself in rigid dichotomies for the first part of the movie. We have man and ape, good and evil, greed and complacence, etc. The movie's first act shows us all these opposing forces and for the rest of the film, we slowly see them transform into new dichotomies, ones that aren't quite so rigid and are much more complex to define.
Man wants power so that they can have air conditioning. The co-leader of the men, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), thinks that without power, the humans will dissolve into complete and total chaos. I don't exactly see his point because these are a group of lone survivors who have watched the world literally crumble around them. Are we supposed to expect that without a few lights and some cold beer they will be uncontrollable?
A group of researchers, scientists, and stupid people go into the woods to try to find a dam, the only credible power source left since the nuclear generators and the diesel fuel burned up. When in the woods they come face to face with a surprising reality: there are monkeys!
Not making the best first impression, they are spared from a grisly death by Caesar, who commands them to leave the forest.
Now we have a conundrum: the humans want the dam turned on because they want power and the apes want to be left alone.
The other co-leader of the humans, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) thinks that he is the ape-whisperer and decides to take it upon himself to try to reason with the primates to let him turn the dam back on, he is warned by Dreyfus that if he doesn't get the power on in three days, Dreyfus will storm into the woods and gun down all the apes.
What "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" really suffers from is its human actors. If the whole movie was just about the apes, I would have been fine with that. It's their more evolved counterparts that sink the movie down to a disappointing level. There are genuinely, cinematically great moments in the movie; but then we have Jason Clarke and Keri Russell trying to be emotional...it's a terrible mess.
The only actor who does a good job is Gary Oldman, but that's to be expected. Using motion capture technology, we reap the benefits of actors pretending to be apes, and all of them do a better job than any of the "real people".
Another problem that arises is "the CGI-look". You can always tell when something is digitally recreated, it has an artificial look, no matter how great it is. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" never looses this fake feeling, even though its special effects are amazing. It does nothing to rival "Life of Pi" or "Gravity" in terms of VFX alone.
Yet we must all hail Andy Serkis for being so accessible and so willing to tackle these kinds of projects. He makes us believe that he is Caesar.
As the movie progresses we get a lot of imagery concerning apes and man—the apes start to walk upright like men, they ride on horses, they start to speak more, they start to cry...compare this to the men who are increasingly more susceptible to panic that they are almost uncontrollable.
But above everything else, the superb character changes and wonderful moments of sheer terror, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has an astoundingly good villain, the best one I've seen in a few years.
The movie doesn't cater to the younger age bracket. It's an intense movie with surprising violence.
Although the acting and script are just absolutely horrid at times, the rest of the movie is good. What is left for us is a credible, entertaining thriller.

Score: ★★★

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