Most Anticipated 2014: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

21. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG-13)
Starring: Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Kerri Russell, Gary Oldman
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Runtime: 130 minutes

I was not expecting Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be good, let alone really good. It was a surprisingly fresh take on the series and essentially rebooted the story. Dawn manages to not only progress the story forward in a fun and inventive way, but also becomes a better movie than the first. Aside from the ridiculous sounding title (and shouldn't Dawn come before Rise?), DotPotA is a very somber tale about fathers and sons and survival.

Set 10 years after the events of the first film, Jason Clarke plays Malcolm, one of the leaders of the human colony in San Francisco who's looking to get power from the dam located in Ape City (I don't think that's the official name, but that's what I'm calling it!) - home to Caesar's growing family of apes. Naturally, there's conflict and things escalate to their inevitable climactic end. I found the story entirely engrossing as much as the characters. For a summer action flick, there's a lot of quiet moments and there is quite a lot of subtitles in the film. The apes all use sign language and it's not distracting at all. In fact, the first 15 or 20 minutes showcase the apes hunting a herd of deer in the forest and it's pretty awesome! You get to know the apes before the humans and you start to see parallels between Caesar's family and Malcolm's.

There's so much to love about this movie - from the fantastic CGI (seriously, those apes look magnificent!) to the incredibly outrageous action sequences (APES WITH GUNS ON HORSEBACK!). Plus the cinematography is awesome - there's a lot of amazing one shots where the scene doesn't cut back and forth, but pans around. It's a fine piece of cinematic work. But aside from all the beautiful aesthetics of the movie, there's some great characters. Caesar is the wizened tribal leader and you actually really see his story develop as he tries to handle the human crisis as best he can while maintaining order within his tribe. And Malcolm is just as determined to make sure his colony of humans gets to survive. They share the same goal but circumstances and short-sighted individuals on both sides ruin their plans.

I'm excited to see where this franchise is heading after the ending of the film. This is one of the best films this year - if you at least enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you'll certainly enjoy its sequel. It manages to raise the stakes while keeping the characters firmly grounded in reality. I thought it was nice to see that there wasn't a black and white, humans bad, apes good position. Instead it manages to make things a lot more grey - there is a villain in the movie, but aside from that one character, everyone seems to act for not only their own interests but those of their fellow species. It's captivating and sometimes a bit insane, but it never becomes dull or boring. A definite must see!


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