I have to say that not a single film this year has surprised me, in a good way, as much as ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. I have nostalgic love for the original films, because I remember watching them with my father, but other than a few catch-phrases, some interesting visual choices and that nostalgic feeling, I can’t say that the ‘Apes’ films are really all that good, and the sequels are atrocious. The Tim Burton reboot was disgustingly awful (and my theater memories of that debacle still make me cringe). Then they decided to reboot this AGAIN, this time with the incredible Andy Serkis and James Franco (who’s arguably incredible, too). I was NOT about to spend money to see that movie. I don’t care who you have in front and behind that camera, I do not have a great relationship with those apes and I don’t really care to ‘try to work on it’.
I divorced them as soon as I walked out of the theater on July 27th, 2001, and since then I’ve moved across the country, changed my name and pretty much wiped their existence from my memory.
I hate when films I have no desire to see because I’m convinced I’ll hate them turn out to have great reviews and legions of fans (a lot of whom were surprised they enjoyed it) and so then I’m forced to…see it for myself.
Now, I liked the reboot. I did. I didn’t love it. I found some of it to be reaching a bit, some of it under-thought and the conclusion to be a tad underwhelming, but overall, it was a serious (and I mean SERIOUS) step up from that Burton nightmare. I wasn’t ready to commit to anything, but I was ok with ‘hanging out a few times’. Now that I’ve seen ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, I’m debating a marriage proposal.
Like, I’m seriously thinking about going all Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton with this franchise (I really hope you get that reference).
‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes a lot of gimmicky movie plotlines and weaves them together. We have the talking animals, the ‘not so subtle’ racism subject, the post-apocalyptic world and the trope about how humans are their own worst enemy, and yet it does it so cleverly that it doesn’t matter. I ate this up. I mean, this world created here is so rich, so vibrant, so real, so honest, so human, so believable and understandable and relatable and just authentic that you feel so IN THIS from the minute it starts. The way that they take the prejudices of man and ape and make them two fold adds a layer of truth and honesty (no one is innocent) and the brutal climax feels so genuinely felt that it leaves the audience literally breathless.
The ensemble works very well with the material given, from the human actors to the CGI ones, with Andy Serkis taking the character of Caesar to another level, and Toby Kebbell completely owning this movie with his savage take on Koba. Clarke anchors the film well (better than I thought Franco did), and the cast of distraught humans feels authentic, feels grounded in the material.
The film may visually thrive because of the brilliant CGI work here, but it also relies heavily on Michael Seresin’s astonishing cinematography. The only other film to produce as many single shots of beauty this past year was ‘Under the Skin’. Whether it be the apes leaping from tree to tree, or the rain drenched stampeded towards the human compound, this film is remarkably lensed. Giancchino’s score is tonally appropriate, and Matt Reeves’ direction is on it, point for point.
One of the best genre films to come out in a year bursting with genre films (and good ones at that), ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes this franchise to a place I never thought it would go; the modern era. For a film that is steeped in a concept we are all familiar with, whether we’ve seen the original films or not, this film feels as fresh and as new as they come, and the undeniably poignancy of the script never feels overbearing or tiresome but feels honest from start to finish.
A...so much an A and almost an A+, especially when considering the genre and my preconceived notions of what this was going to be.