Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review: Starring Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis & Keri Russell

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the first film of the year with significant sci-fi and CGI achievement. It’s hard to believe these apes are not real and instead actors are behind the CGI characters. Using motion capture suits and cameras that capture the facial expressions of the actor, animals have never looked and felt more real in a film.

2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was fantastic and after recently re-watching it, the CGI still holds up, but in this film it looks even better. Matt Reeves (2010’s Let Me In) steps in as director and tells the story from the Apes’ perspective this time around. There are both pros and cons in doing it this way. The main con is that there is little to no character development from the human characters and a few actors are completely wasted (mainly Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee), but the pro is that we learn more about our lead Ape Caesar (motion-captured by Andy Serkis) and his story remains to be an intriguing one.

Set 10 years after the human versus Apes battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, Rise of the Planet of the Apes begins from the apes’ perspective as we see Caesar (Andy Serkis), who is still the leader of the Apes, in his home in the forest just outside San Francisco. Caesar now has a mate Cornelia (Judy Greer), a son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and a newborn baby. Koba (Toby Kebbell) has remained loyal to Caesar since he rescued him and the other apes from their prison cells 10 years prior, but still distrusts humans more than ever. Caesar’s close friend Maurice (Karin Konoval) mentions that it has been over two years since a human was spotted and wonders if any are still out there after the virus killed millions around the world.

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When researchers Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell), along with Malcolm’s son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) walk through the forest in search of a power source to relight the city, they have a close encounter with a couple of Apes. The run-in sparks a chain of events that eventually leads to a war between the Apes and humans.

Clearly, Andy Serkis is the King of Motion Capture, but there are several other actors that deserve recognition here for their performance. Toby Kebbell is perfectly scary as the menacing Koba, Nick Thurston is sweet and unsure as Caesar’s son Blue Eyes, and Karin Konoval reprises her role as the orangutan Maurice, who has been loyal to Caesar since they met. Unfortunately Judy Greer is given little to nothing as Caesar’s mate Cornelia, which begs the question if some of her scenes were cut. It’s hard to believe that these human faces are behind the ape faces we see in the film.

The ape-human storyline between James Franco and Andy Serkis was the heart of the first film and was definitely missed here in the sequel. But the screenwriters swap that out and focus on the relationship Caesar has with Koba, Maurice and his son, which are all driving forces of the film.

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Where the sequel fails is not developing any of the human characters. We’re given fantastic actors (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman), yet the screenplay only manages to give Russell a few crying scenes and Oldman a few scenes where he is screaming about how the apes are going to destroy mankind. The actors do what they can, but all of the characters are written on one-note. The emotional storyline rests with the Apes, but its still a shame these actors weren’t given much.

The 3D in the film is useless and offers nothing to the story, but the film is worth seeing on the big screen in 2D. Andy Serkis gives one of the most memorable performances of the year as Caesar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes matches the quality of its predecessor. The franchise is clearly growing in technical achievements, so here’s hoping the final film of this trilogy will be the best yet.

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