Friday, July 18, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A few years ago, I’d cited that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the best movie I had seen that year.  What made it extra special was it surpassed my expectations dramatically with its interesting story and awesome special effects.  Rise was one movie that brought me to feeling like a kid again while watching it. 
So, here I was again, feeling anxious as I’d seen all the trailers and TV spots, showing us what was to come with the awaited sequel, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

My initial reaction and anticipation before seeing it today was that it was going to be a worthy sequel, but not as good as the 2011 film.  All praise went to Rupert Wyatt, back then, for his direction and vision of that film, as he gave us one hell of an Ape story to see.  It was thought he’d return for the sequel, but for whatever reason he didn’t (I heard he felt he couldn’t make the rushed release date set by Fox).  So enter Matt Reeves, hot from 2008’s Cloverfield and 2010’s Let Me In.  Both films, I thought, were terrific and I saw that Reeves had a good mind for what a moviegoer wanted to see in those genre movies.  Still, I had my doubts, thinking that the magic of the first film was credited to Rupert Wyatt, but after seeingDawn of the Planet of the Apes, I now see that my doubts—as bleak as they stood—were totally speculative.

The film opens ten years after what transpired at the end of the 2011 film as humankind was wiped out by the ALZ113 virus, but dubbed the Simian Flu.  The apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), have been living in the Muir Woods and establishing it as their home.  But as it turns out, mankind was not completely
extinguished, as a group of people who are immune to the virus have made a colony in San Francisco.  Fuel is running out and they want to restore the hydroelectric facility within the apes’ territory.  Caesar allows it, but because of distrust among the humans and apes, it leads to a war between them.

First off, I’m glad they went with the jump to a decade later, rather than showing the human side of the story and how the virus destroyed them.  I believe if they went with that, it would be too long of an exposition that would take the story away from the apes.  The animated end credits scenes in the first film, as well as the beginning credits of this film, give us enough information about what had happened to everyone.  Even if they chose not to display those graphics of how the sickness spread, the scene at the end of Rise, where the airline pilot obviously caught the virus, would be enough for us to understand that the world’s population had snuffed out.

I’ve got to admit, I was a bit skeptical about what the story was going to be about.  With the trailers that we’ve been treated to in the past year, it sort of misled us.  When viewing them it made Caesar look like he was for the war, but you understood that he was forced to do so by the actions of Gary Oldman’s character, Dreyfus.  Seeing how Oldman acted in the trailer, made him look a bit one-dimensional.  But all that was a good thing because I hate it when trailers nearly give the whole story within it and almost make you want to avoid the film.  So even if you’ve seen most of the previews, you’ll still feel like you’re going into this film fresh and without any preconceived notions.  All in all, you’ll be surprised when you see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Speaking of Gary Oldman, he doesn’t have much to do in this film and I was hoping to see a bit more of him or that the film would flesh out his backstory as we see—through photos on a tablet that he powers up—he had lost a family to the virus outbreak.  It’s actually a powerful scene, seeing him break down and cry…you feel the film will center on him when the human side of the film progresses.  But I guess the filmmakers, instead, decided to focus the story on the character of Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the human who connects with Caesar and believes they can all coexist in peace together.  Clarke does a fine job and fills that gap that James Franco left behind.

One thing you’ll find yourself doing—especially if you’re a fan of special effects like me—is trying to decipher how the apes were rendered while watching the movie.  The CGI and motion capture combination used in this film is magnificent!  All the apes that are represented using mo-cap look so friggin’ real that it nearly blows my mind.  The close-ups are incredible and look so damned real, they all look like real chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas.  Some scenes show Caesar standing, with the wind blowing across
him, and you can see every strand of fur moving.  The very start of the film opens with a very tight close-up of his face and you can see every wrinkle, every blemish or scar, the eyeballs moving perfectly with the eyelids…it’s so fantastic, it must be seen to believe.  The end shot is the most spectacular shot I’ve seen of any CGI’d character…you’ll see what I mean when you watch this.

As in all of Andy Serkis’s motion capture performances, he is awesome once again as Caesar, making the character his own.  Along with him, we get quite a few other great performances that surpassed the first film.  Koba (Toby Kebbell) is a bit more fleshed out and voices his opinion—literally—about the humans and how he distrusts them and the performance by the actor is right up there with Serkis’s Caesar, especially a scene where Caesar tells Koba to let Malcolm and his people to do their “human work.”  You find yourself siding with Koba when he points to various scars on his body as he angrily repeats the words, “human work,” to each one.

The sets and backgrounds of the apes’ home are so organic and realistic—a fitting setting for the characters to live.  Where the humans make their home, a colony made within some buildings in San Francisco, is almost the contrast of the apes’ preserve.  But it comes with similarities, too, as there appears to be a lot of overgrown weeds, brush and foliage growing throughout the walls and streets of the humans’ area.  On top of that, it definitely gives you the sense that the world all went to hell as we see how the city is overrun by vegetation.  A great example in the film is a 76 Gas Station that seems to be placed in the middle of a forest, but then you realize the forest grew around the service station.

For an all-out Apes film, there is still quite a lot of emotion contained within it.  It helps that Caesar now has a family with a mate, Cornelia (Judy Greer), and an older son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).  In the first minutes of the film, Caesar and Cornelia welcome another son into their world, giving even more emotion as he witnesses the birth.  It’s understood that Caesar does not hate all humans, especially remembering how he was brought up by one.  And we see that when he gives them some slack when they first intrude onto their territory.  However, most of the apes that he leads have contempt for the humans and it’s fueled even more by Koba’s hatred towards them.  On top of that, you sense the unsettled sentiment Caesar feels as he sees that his son has contempt for the humans as well, especially when he fails to change his son’s mind.

As a whole, the film doesn’t make the whole human race an evil entity, and it displays the apes the same way.  During the film, we already know that, yet we see the characters from both species having trouble seeing that.  Instead, they draw a line in the sand, thinking their own are good while the others are bad.  On that note, we can understand the animosity that some of the humans feel as they’re used to these creatures being contained and controlled by humans before the world went to hell and now they’re becoming the dominant beings.  We also understand the apes’ point of view where a lot of them were—in their mind—prisoners of the humans as they were kept in cages most of their lives.  So one really can’t go to this movie and expect the humans or apes to be the protagonists, and vice versa.

Overall, Matt Reeves took what Rupert Wyatt did in the first and seamlessly directed an earnest sequel that’s exciting and moving.  Although he had a wonderful “human” cast to work with, the movie wouldn’t be what it was if it weren’t for the great motion capture acting of Andy Serkis et al.

If there’s one thing that I can nitpick—it’s so minor and really won’t take you out of the movie—is the non-motion-capture CGI rendering.  Near the beginning we see a herd of deer running about, as well as a grizzly bear, and it’s a little off-putting because CGI was used to display them and it’s just not perfect.  Even the animation of Caesar’s new born son is just a little on the cartoon side.  But like I had said, these scenes shouldn’t bother you at all…just some things I wanted to point out.

So, what’s my final “bit” on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?

The movie is the best I’ve seen during this summer blockbuster period, making the others, so far, pale in comparison.  The special effects are great and it just leaves me wanting more.  The next sequel has already been greenlit for 2016, so be ready!  Dawn is a movie that shouldn’t be missed!

As a side bit, I had heard there was an after-credits stinger, so I decided to look it up online.  I’d read that it was just some audio that you’ll hear, but no visual scene, so I decided to walk out before it happened.  I won’t tell you what it is, but I just wanted to warn you that if you were going to wait a few minutes through a bunch of credits, you weren’t going to see anything.  However, it’s a bit interesting and it’s actually open to interpretation, from what I’ve read.

Anyway, that’s it for now and I’ll be back soon!

Thanks for reading!

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