Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Movie Review

Among Hollywood’s recent output of mediocre (and in some cases: downright abysmal) remakes of Sci-Fi classics, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was the rare movie which stood out, for it had as much of a brain as it had a heart – plus an original approach to the well-known material and great visuals. Having said that, ‘Rise’ practically pales in comparison to Matt Reeves’ sequel: the upcoming ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is as close to a Science-Fiction masterpiece as a 170 million PG-13 Hollywood summer blockbuster can possibly get.

The storyline picks up ten years after we saw Ceasar and his fellow simian escapees seek refuge in the woods near San Francisco, and although the film’s trailers already gave away pretty much everything that happened during that time (and alas, way too much of what will happen), I’m not going to spoil anything for those who carefully avoided watching said trailers. As with all my reviews, instead of giving away any details about the story, I’ll elaborate on all other aspects of the movie.

What needs to be mentioned first is what an astonishing achievement ‘Dawn’ is when it comes to the use of CGI. I’m normally very critical towards the (over-)use of CGI – but the level of craftsmanship displayed here simply has to be admired. It only took me seconds to forget I was watching digital characters (brought to life through the outstanding motion-capture performances by Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell and Judy Grier – to name but a few), and I can’t begin to imagine what a task it must have been for the artists and wizards in the animation department to work on every background and every tiny little detail of every character until this level of seamlessness and reality could be achieved.

But nearly every other aspect of the movie has been realized equally well: Michael Giacchino’s haunting musical score fits and reflects the drama on screen perfectly, while the – often terrifying – beauty of the images on screen had me immediately wondering who the DoP was (now I know: Michael Seresin, the genius veteran DoP of such classics as ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Angel Heart’). When it comes to the action; well, ‘Dawn’ is not your usual summer blockbuster. This is no light-hearted, comic-book-style fantasy film with fun, over-the-top action scenes. What we have here is a gritty, realistic portrayal of a slowly escalating conflict, and when we do get to the battle scenes in the third act, those scenes are a spectacular, mesmerizing visual feast (and ultimately heart breaking).

But the core of this film – and also the reason why the action scenes in the third act really do have an impact and all the mayhem really gets to you – is the intelligent, skilfully told story with its well-drawn, believable characters (portrayed by equally believable actors). The tragic simian/human conflict mirrors our real – and very human – past and present day wars and social frictions in a very credible way and thus makes this film resonate far beyond what any mere Sci-Fi premise would let you expect.

So my verdict: With its beautiful imagery, highly relevant story and breath-taking effects, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is as close to a Science-Fiction masterpiece as its mass-audience orientated constrictions allowed it to be (which – in this case – is very close); an astonishing achievement and highly recommended.

 

9 out of 10 stars.

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