Friday, July 11, 2014

'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" Review: Which Ones Are the Real Animals?

Andy Serkis is not monkeying around.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked if I had a copy of the "Planet of the Apes" movie starring Mark Wahlberg that she could borrow. She and her teen-age daughter wanted to watch it. When I delivered it to them over lunch on Sunday, I mentioned that the 2001 film directed by Tim Burton is in no way connected to the new release, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."

She had no idea.

And it really makes no difference.

If you've never seen any of the "Planet of the Apes" movies, going all the way back to Charlton Heston, or the sequels, the television shows or the most recent reboot, 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," the film's opening sequence will quickly bring you up to speed.

It's been 10 years since the outbreak of simian virus in "Rise." Apes are living peacefully in their own village in the woods outside San Francisco. Because they haven't seen a human in two years, they wonder whether any are left alive. Soon enough, they learn that there are human survivors of the man-made plague - and they have guns.

Right way, your know this is not going to go well.

Oh, parties on both sides try. Lead ape Caesar, portrayed again by the remarkable Andy Serkis, and the leader of a human expedition on a peace mission, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), work through their issues to gain each other's trust. Unfortunately, others are not so open-minded. The rebellious apes are led by the vengeful Koba (Toby Kebbell), while mankind's worsts instincts are embodied by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman).

I say "unfortunately" when perhaps I should say "fortunately," because who wants to watch a post-apocalyptic story where everyone sits around campfires holding hands/paws and singing "Kumbaya"?

To its credit, the plot is more complicated than apes vs. humans in a battle to the finish. There is enough political betrayal behind the scenes on both sides to keep the intrigue moving along. Don't expect any major surprises, but the script plays out well with many fine touches.

And, of course, the movie is filled with wonderful CGI effects. Not only are Serkis and Kebbell to be commended for managing to portray genuine emotions through all of the fur, they are well supported by fellow simians Rocket (Terry Notary), Maurice (Karin Konoval), Cornelia (Judy Greer), Ash (Doc Shaw), River (Nick Thurston) and others. That's one of the pleasant surprises in "Rise;' it is far from a one-ape show.

If anything, the humans are more stereotyped. Keri Russell portrays the loving and supportive wife Ellie, who also happens to be a Centers for Disease Control nurse. Kodi Smit-McPhee is the misunderstood teen-age son, Alexander, and Kirk Acevedo plays the bitter, ape-hating, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later Carver.

Themes of family and survival also run through the movie if you are looking for a Moral To The Story. If you're going mostly to watch the apes and humans do battle, you won't be disappointed either. Beneath the human-ape drama, there is certainly this (spoken by Carver):

"They're talking apes! And they've got big-ass spears!"

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