Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Darker, Poignant, Evocative

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_10“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a visually darker, thematically more poignant segment of Fox’s popular franchise than the previous chapter, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” in 2011.

Taking the series to another level with his dynamic and violent exploration of the humanoid ape Caesar’s quest for independence, Matt Reeves shows the difference between a pedestrian director such as Rupert Wyatt (who helmed the 2011 film) and a skillful director with a sharp eye for details.

While the cast is composed of newcomers, Caesar is now placed at the center, and Andy Serkis’ remarkable motion-capture performance continues to impress and hold our attention from first act to last.

With the help of largely decent reviews, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” generated more than $480 million worldwide and an Oscar nomination for its stunning effects. Likely to garner stronger critical support, Fox release should reap big rewards when the picture opens domestically and internationally on July 9.

Reeves, who made strong impression with Cloverfield, and his team of writers, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (who penned the previous tale) and “The Wolverine” scribe Mark Bomback, have fashioned the new film as a rather complex war drama, one that goes beyond the conflict of man vs. beast, borrowing ideas from other genre films.

The tale is again set in San Francisco (or what has remained of the gorgeous city) about a decade after “Rise of the Planet” ended. The movie begins on the right foot with an impressive pre-credits montage of news reports about a simian flu, the ALZ-113 virus, which has wiped out most of the world’s human population. The bleak stats suggest that the survival rate is less than 1 in 500.

With government services suspended and nuclear power depleted, the remaining residents live in dark isolation, offering great opportunities for cinematographer. The danger is therefore imminent and twofold: flu can get the survivor as well as the lack of basic resources.

The small band of residents is led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a former military man bent on revenge against the apes for the loss of his family to the virus. He is contrasted with Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who orchestrated a recovery of the city’s electricity by regaining control of the O’Shaughnessy Dam. His project meant encroaching on the turf of the ape community, ruled by Caesar. As a result, the already dangerous tensions between man and ape escalate even further.

Caesar responds to the diplomatic overtures of Malcolm and his medic wife, Ellie (Keri Russell), granting them limited access to the dam. But He doesn’t get the approval of all his subjects, and Koba (Toby Kebbell), a hot-headed ape, aims to dethrone his leader. When a reactionary member of Malcolm’s party is revealed to have broken Caesar’s condition of cooperation, the furor motivates Koba to launch an aggressive counter-movement.

Shrewdly, the tale depicts both the human and ape communities as fractional, with each one internally conflicted and divided in terms of ideology, policy and action. “I always think ape better than human,” Caesar admits to Malcolm in a weak moment, “I see now how like them we are.”

It’s to the credit of the filmmakers that “Dawn of the Apes” is richer in text and subtext than the former film, and perceptive viewers will be able to detect references and allusions to timely issues of cooperation and co-existence among various groups and minorities, the gun control debate, legitimate and illegitimate use of violence, and so on.