Mania Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: A

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  • Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clark, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell and Kodi Smit-McPhee
  • Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback
  • Directed by: Matt Reeves
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 130 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

You maniacs...

By Rob Vaux     July 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
© 20th Century Fox/Robert Trate

 When they do science fiction right, it takes the breath away. Even if you’re the sequel to a surprisingly effective reboot of a franchise whose origins are 40-plus years in the rearview mirror. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes demonstrates how much potential its predecessor (the stunningly strong Rise of the Planet of the Apes) held, then makes good on that potential in ways even the most optimistic fan could never dream.

Actor Andy Serkis remains the straw that stirs the drink, continuing his revolutionary work in motion capture performance as Caesar the chimpanzee. You can sense Serkis’s personality behind the exquisitely rendered face, blended with the pixels to create a character whose depths we may have only begun to understand. We flash forward to ten years after the first movie, and while humanity has pretty much gone to hell in the wake of that devastating plague, Caesar and his fellow lab escapees have built a quiet life in the woods north of San Francisco. They think they’ve seen the last of the humans, until a party from a nearby colony wanders into their turf. They want to restore power to a nearby dam – providing the remnants of the city with something resembling civilization –  but politics, prejudice and a few bad apples put the kibbutz on whatever uneasy agreement cooler heads hope to strike.

You can see the writing on the wall early on, but director Matt Reeves has some tricks up his sleeve to keep us guessing. The extraordinary thing is how well the seeds of the first film tie into those developments, and how organically Dawn of the Planet of the Apes brings them to life. We see it most clearly in Koba (Toby Kebbell) the scarred and hardened chimpanzee from Rise. He emerges as Caesar’s natural rival in the ape community, an ostensibly loyal lieutenant growing increasingly hostile to the presence of nearby humans. His actions force Caesar to grapple with the limits of the simian utopia he hopes to build, and perhaps even compromise his most dearly held beliefs. The human community matches that tension, led by Gary Oldman’s Nervous Nellie commander and desperate to get the dam operational before the lights go out. His own underling (Jason Clarke) wants to build a lasting alliance with the apes, but if you’ve seen the previews, you know that things don’t break in such an optimistic direction.

The divisions cut across the two communities, revealing the kind of weightier notions that mark the best of this series. Pick your poison here: man’s inhumanity to man, ecological cautionary tales, how politics can easily lead to self-destruction. It all boils down to Assholes Ruining It for Everyone, a theme that marked this series from the beginning. Reeves only touches on the deeper stuff: enough to get us thinking and talking but nothing that disrupts the film’s status as summer popcorn.

Even as popcorn, however, it’s much smarter than the average bear, just as its predecessor was. The CGI does wonders in that regard, bolstered by another stunning turn from Serkis and ample work from his fellow “simian thespians.” Reeves wraps us up in their story with the simplest tools: sympathy, compassion and proper motivation even for the villains. Within that, we can take the story for whatever we want. As spectacle, it’s brilliant and if you’re looking for something more, the overall intelligence that went into this project raises it head and shoulders above its competition this summer.

The original 1968 Planet of the Apes may rank as the best science fiction film ever made, but it wasn’t until Rise that it truly found a worthy successor. Dawn carries the same DNA in its blood, and it’s very aware of its own history to boot. You can see little nods and winks to earlier Apes movies throughout the film, but it doesn’t allow them to dictate its content. The CGI is great, stuff goes ‘splody real good, and we’re left wondering once again when Serkis will get his due as one of the most innovative actors working today. But underneath all of that, the reasons this works so well apply to any movie ever made. We’re seeing the beauty of simplicity at work here: good storytelling married to interesting characters and meaty concepts. In an era as bombastic as ours, that’s something worth celebrating.


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goirish83 7/10/2014 12:26:40 PM

This is getting great reviews, sitting at 93% on RT.  Can't wait to go Saturday morning, looks amazing.

DarthoftheDead 7/10/2014 12:28:38 PM

 I hate every Ape I see....

From Chimpan-A to Chimpanzee


VioLatorr 7/10/2014 12:35:47 PM

 ^ WTH?? LOL!

monkeyfoot 7/10/2014 1:01:26 PM

Hopefully, I'll be seeing it this weekend.



But Darth, they put the ape in apricot!

alienstatue 7/10/2014 1:04:08 PM

I can't wait to see this. There's a showing at 10:30 tonight, I might just go to that. I'm not being a douche but I really can't see Serkis face or expressions behind the motion capture. But none the less I do think what he's doing is amazing.

HomestarRunner 7/10/2014 1:42:29 PM

DarthoftheDead - I love that song!

'Oh, my gosh! I was wrong! It was Earth...all along. Guess they finally made a monkey...'

'Yes, we finally made a monkey...'

'Yes, they finally made a monkey out of meeeeeeee! I love you, Dr. Zaius!'

fatpantz 7/10/2014 9:33:07 PM

Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius...oh oh ohhhh Dr. Zaius!

Your opening statement couldnt be more accurant Rob.  The first remake Dawn totally took my breath away and I am glad to hear that this one is going to do the same.  Going either Sat or Sun!

Also hoping to catch Boyhood...should be a great weekend of movie viewing.

VTGamehendge 7/10/2014 11:15:25 PM

The local Regal cinema here in Richmond ran a double feature tonight starting with Rise at 7:00 and then the premiere of Dawn. 

Newdude718 7/10/2014 11:16:27 PM

 Can I play the piano anymore. of course you could. Well I couldn't before!! 

Youve finally made a monkey out of meeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

cant wait to see this movie looks epic hope it smokes that turd of a 2nd generation remake by the dude that made Edward scissor hands. 

VTGamehendge 7/10/2014 11:17:26 PM

I think a lot of people took advantage of it because I went to see Tammy tonight and the parking lot was full.  And Tammy kinda sucked...

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