New day for 'Planet of the Apes' 

'Dawn' stands out from other summer fare.

click to enlarge movie_review1-1.jpg

The reaction in the past week of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has been equal parts encouraging and depressing. Happily, the movie's actually pretty good, and audiences, apparently starved for anything that doesn't salute their intelligence with both middle fingers, turned out in droves.

The damn dirty apes blew it up at the box office, raking in more than $100 million worldwide. And much of that was deserved: In its effects, plot, tone and action, "Dawn" is a fine sci-fi flick. The quickest praise to offer might be, it's an epic with meaningful intimate moments, and it convincingly creates a world where the actions of one or two characters will determine the fate of multiple societies. Also, fun apes.

Yet none of these things should be extraordinary. There was a palpable sense in the theater where I saw "Dawn" that the movie had outstripped expectations. It was a Friday night show, one where people arrive early for decent seats and wind up gabbing and dinking around on their phones. Then, through the 130-minute feature, nary a peep. People didn't leave in a post-traumatic daze, bludgeoned into mute submission by superheroes or Transformers or exploding alien ships. This was hardly a perfect movie; some of the time elements just don't make sense, and for a crafty band of survivors who endured an apocalyptic plague that wiped out 499 of every 500 people on the planet, the humans tend to make stupid decisions. Still, as a summer potboiler, this doesn't feel like a waste of 10 bucks. Too often the same cannot be said for its competitors.

Andy Serkis, the biggest movie star no one ever sees, is back as Caesar, an ape made hyperintelligent by experimental dementia drugs in the previous film. (That was "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," confusingly synonymous with "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.") He and his ape clan, a decade after the aforementioned epidemic, are situated nicely among some Ewok-grade treehouse digs in a forest north of San Francisco. All seems peachy till some stray humans stumble into their territory and, 'murica, pop a cap into one of the juvenile apes. The apes, not amused, ride into town and tell the humans, from horseback, not to return to the apes' zip code, under penalty of spearing.

But because the humans are running out of fuel and need to jimmy a hydroelectric plant near the apes, confrontation looms. Jason Clarke does a fine job as a levelheaded peacemaker who brokers permission to take his crew into the woods and give the dam plan a chance. Meanwhile, his fellow colony leader Gary Oldman has determined that the dam is so essential, it's worth going to war over, if need be. A suspicious, bellicose ape named Koba (played by Toby Kebbell, like Serkis, fully obscured in seamless visual effects) finds the humans prepping for war, and palace intrigue ensues.

Matt Reeves ("Let Me In," "Cloverfield") directs with an eye for lighting and a keen sense of pacing. A presumable weakness of "Dawn" — that most of its characters, even the primary ones, communicate only in simple thoughts, and slowly at that — proves something of a strength. Unlike most political thrillers, there's not a lot of yakkity-jabber going on here. The sentiments are straightforward, and the themes, basic. Trust. Family. Risk. Aggression. Apes. This could easily have been a $170 million hangdog sequel. Instead, it gives the audience a modicum of credit, and because it's an attempt at real cinema, it arrives like a glass of cool water. It is a good movie that in July is destined to set the curve for blockbusters.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

  • 'True Detective' episode 6 recap: Enter the chicken king

    Things are not going well for Tom Purcell, and that’s really saying a lot. Episode 6 of this third season of “True Detective” finds him mad as hell and not taking it anymore, and marks a high mark for Scoot McNairy, who till now has played the grieving father as the embodiment of cuckolded defeat.
    • Feb 11, 2019
  • 'True Detective' episode 5 recap: Seeking atonement

    Well, that escalated quickly. An index card on a police bulletin board in 1990 calls the cliffhanger at the end of “True Detective’s” fourth episode the “Woodard Altercation,” in the understatement of the decade.
    • Feb 4, 2019
  • 'True Detective' episode 4 recap: Picking up speed

    In the fourth episode, we’re edging away from a meditative gaze into the soulful navel of the gothic South and moving toward more of a beach-read, a page-turner. And we’re getting there because for the first time, multiple characters are jousting to control the narrative.
    • Jan 28, 2019
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Wakanda for the win

    'Black Panther' is thoroughly, joyously, unabashedly black.
    • Feb 22, 2018

Latest in Movie Reviews


© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation