FlixChatter Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

DawnOfApesPoster

Let me preface this review by saying that I haven’t seen any of the classic Apes movies in the 60s. I did see the 2001 reboot but I can barely remember any of it. But the 2011 version won me over that I’m intrigued to see what’s going to happen next.

The story takes place about a decade after the first film. The opening sequence swiftly tells us a Simian flu and incessant civil wars have wiped out most of humanity. On the brink of extinction, the remaining survivors in pockets all over the world is now living back in a *primal* state. It’s the search of power that connects the two species, as the dam the humans need to restore power resides so dangerously close to the Apes village.

DawnOfApesStills1

I love that the film takes its time in the character development of the apes, which are actually more crucial than the human characters. We get a glimpse of the apes’ community that Caesar & his fellow lab objects has built in the hills outside San Francisco.  The little apes go to *school* taught by a big, gentle orangutan, the female apes take care of the household, whilst the males hunt to provide food and protect the community. It’s akin to a tribal village where all the apes live peacefully under the leadership of the strong and wise Caesar. Not long after a small group of humans encounter some of the apes in the woods, thanks to a moron with an itchy trigger-finger, the fragile peace between the humans and the apes is about to be shattered.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) creates a suspenseful and atmospheric piece here that immediately sucks you in. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film. Aided by Michael Giacchino‘s haunting score, it’s a truly immersive experience. There is genuine terror when one of the human group leaders Malcolm tries to reason with Caesar, having witnessed that he’s clearly more than just a regular ape. Jason Clarke is solid here as Malcolm, he’s not overly charismatic but he’s effortlessly sympathetic and likable. To be fair, none of the human characters are nearly as charismatic as Caesar whose screen presence is undeniable. He commands your attention and even your allegiance, as I find myself rooting for him more than for the humans.

DawnOfApes_Malcolm

Right from the start, this story keeps me engrossed whilst I marvel at the amazing CGI that looks and feels realistic. Mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis never ceases to amaze me with his motion-capture performance as Caesar. I really think his performance deserves an acting award as he truly embodies the role in the same way as a live-action actor would. The craftsmanship in the digital recreation of the apes is nothing short of amazing. Every detail and all the subtle nuances of the apes’ expression are so seamless and organic, you’d think these are actual apes who’ve been amazingly-trained! The apes all have distinct facial characteristics, just like the humans do. The production design is absolutely mesmerizing. The ape village, as well as the human compound in a rundown tower looks realistically gritty and bleak. There is a very cool scene in a wrecked gas station that sticks in the mind, not just visually but emotionally as well.

The emotional gratification is what makes a big impact here. Whilst all the special effects are incredible (what with $170 production cost), it’s the characters and their conflicts that make all the difference. And we certainly get that here with Caesar and Malcolm, both of them are essentially on the same page. Both have a family and a community they care about, yet they have to contend with those in their circle who simply don’t see things as they do. In Caesar’s camp, we’ve got Koba (Toby Kebell), his right hand man ape whose hatred for humans stems from being tortured in the lab and he’s got the ugly scars to prove it. “Koba only sees the bad side of humans,” Caesar says at one point, and honestly, at times I do feel sorry for Koba. Malcolms’ cohorts are more one-dimensional. You’ve got the hot-headed jerk Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the paranoid group leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who doesn’t really have much to do here than scream and shout. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Keri Russell fare better as Clarke’s son and girlfriend, respectively, though again, most of the human characters are simply not as memorable as the apes.

DawnOfApesStills2

I know it’s only July, but I have a strong feeling this would end up in my Top 10 of 2014 list. I also don’t think I’m exaggerating that this stands as perhaps one of the best sequels of all time, whilst at the same time it’d work fine as a standalone film. There’s a scene that allude to Caesar’s past in the first film, a poignant moment that truly tugs my heartstrings. I don’t think people need to see the 2011 film in order to get this film, but of course it makes you appreciate Caesar’s journey more. Kudos to Matt Reeves and his team of writers (five of them to be exact) for making this film a Caesar-focused story, it’s a taut thriller that’s as gripping as it is emotionally-gratifying. Now, the narrative is actually quite predictable, but this is not the kind of film that relies on twists so it doesn’t dampen my enjoyment for the film. Given the present conflicts all over the world, the bloodshed and social discord depicted here resonate even more.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. The technical achievements never overshadow the story, even during the action-heavy battle scenes in the third act, it doesn’t become so bombastic that we lose sight of what’s really at stake. The 3D is just okay, which is consistent with my sentiment that 2D format is always sufficient. The powerful last shot lends itself nicely to another sequel, and you know what, I for one can’t wait to see more the continuation of Caesar’s journey.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What do you think of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?

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62 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

  1. I was going to see it this weekend but my local multiplex didn’t have a morning screening for the film except in 3D which I’m not paying an extra $4 for.

  2. Excellent review! I just caught this last night and was really entertained! Toby Kebbell has been a favourite actor of mine for a while now, but his Koba performance is seriously something to marvel! Can’t wait for his future endeavours :).

    1. Hi Joseph! Yeah Kebbell is excellent as Koba. I remember him in Rocknrolla n War Horse, he’s a terrific actor. Hope he gets more prominent roles in the future.

  3. Ted S.

    Ruth it’s a good thing you don’t remember any of the 2001 atrocious film, even Tim Burton disowned it. I don’t know what they were thinking when they made that awful film but you SHOULD see the original 1968 version. Of course since you’ve already know the famous “twist” ending but it’s still one of the best sci-fi flicks from that era.

    As for this sequel, I really liked it too. Matt Reeves is heading to becoming an A-list director fast, can’t wait to see his next flick. My complaint with this movie is the same as the first, the human characters were so one dimensional that I wanted to see more of them gets developed. Especially Gary Oldman’s character, how can you have someone as talented as him and just made him into a one-dimensional antagonist. This was wasted opportunity to tell both sides of the story, the struggle of humans and the rise of the apes to become the dominance specie. Let’s hope in the third one they’ll fix this issue. Overall though, it’s one of the best sequels out there, it definitely surpassed the original.

    1. Atrocious is right. I do remember Tim Roth was ok as the lead ape but of course Wahlberg is usually forgettable. I might check out the original, I’ve seen clips of it and of course that iconic ‘damn dirty apes’ line, ahah. I actually don’t know the twist so don’t tell me!!!

      As for the one-dimensional human characters, it seems that they’re trying to boost the ape characters more as the story is Caesar-centric, but yeah they go too far. Even Jason Clarke seems less strong here than his previous roles but it seems intentional.

      I’m impressed by Matt Reeves though, yeah I’m curious about the 3rd one, hopefully he’ll be back at the helm.

      1. Ted S.

        Oh you don’t know the twist, good then! The original feels a bit dated today but for its time, it’s sure was a smart and entertaining flick. Actually if you remember Rise of the Apes, they mentioned some astronauts going to space, which was reference to Charleston Heston’s character from the original flick. The 1968 version took place centuries after the events of these two new apes films. I have the Bluray if you want to burrow it. I can’t recommend the sequels though, they’re just too cheesy and kind of boring to me.

        1. Ahah, I should just borrow your entire blu-ray don’t I? We should do a meet up soon Ted, it’s been too long!

          Oh right, I think I remember that, interesting that they did an homage to the classics. Ok then I’ll just see the first film 🙂

  4. You definitely need to see the original film with Heston. It’s very good! You have me anxious to see this one. I like the first film of this version but didn’t just love it. I think that’s why I haven’t rushed out to see it. But with all the good press I think I’ll see it sooner rather than later.

    1. I might check out a couple of the Heston films. This one is VERY good Keith, I think if you’ve seen the first reboot film, you’d appreciate this one a lot.

  5. As you know, I’m a fan of the 60s franchise (although I think only two standout — the original 1968 and Escape From The Planet Of The Apes). But I believe these modern reboots with Andy Serkis is going to be much better. That’s two films in a row that I find awesome. I’ve a feeling the future films will be too.

    1. Hi Asrap, based on your Apes Marathon post, I’ll only check out the two you mentioned. I think it the 3rd film is as good as this one, it’d be one heck of a stellar Apes trilogy!

  6. With Matt Reeves at the helm, the darker and more horror-like aspect was much expected going in, and I think it delivered. A very different movie from the first, but one that certainly stands on its own. Impressive stuff here. Nice review, Ruth! 🙂

    1. Hi Chris! His horror influence definitely add a dose of chills to some of the scenes. It does feel very different from the first, but in a good way!

  7. Good review. It was a very tense, exciting movie that also had plenty of emotional baggage to go with the whole thing as well. Pretty impressive if you ask me.

    1. Hi Dan! Kudos to Reeves for injecting more sinister aspect but still retain the emotional gratification. I really feel for Caesar here, he had to make a lot of tough decisions!

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more Ruth! I think it really outperforms Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I’m glad that they decided to focus a lot more on Caesar and the apes this time around. It was such a visual treat to watch, and the tone, music, and character development just had me at the edge of my seat throughout. Gotta my review now haha! Cheers to another great review Ruth!

    1. Hey Raul, glad to see you stop by. Yeah I think it’s a bold decision to make it Caesar-centric and it pays off wonderfully. Yes, all the ingredients work well to create a suspenseful yet poignant film. Hey, I look forward to your review, pls tweet me when you’ve got that done ok?

  9. 4,5 stars!!! YES!!!!
    I didn’t read your review because I don’t want to be spoiled even a bit, I just need to see your rating on THE ONLY movie I am anticipating this year. Couldn’t wait to see it this Wednesday 🙂

    1. Ahah you’re too funny Nov. Well I hope this meets your expectation. It absolutely gripped me, I can’t wait to see it again later this year!

  10. Reblogged this on Wind Castle – Place of Memories and commented:
    Trời, 4.5 kìa @.@ Thèm chết mất. Chừng nào dc coi đây.

    Phải nói là cái phần này ko còn bạn James Franco nữa mình hơi bùn tí. Ngoài đời bạn ấy ba trợn vậy mà lên phim đóng cute phết. Vai nào ra vai đó. Hix p1 bạn ấy đốn tim mình với father figure hoàn hảo lun. Đoạn 2 ba con chia ly ở trại kiểm soát thú vật chôm của mình mấy bịch khăn giấy T.T Phần này ko biết có áp đảo dc cảm giác về p1 của mình ko. Sequel thì lúc nào mình cũng khắt khe hơn chút đỉnh. Để xem về rồi đọc bài này vậy 😦
    Đang tìm 1 phim boost lại tâm trạng viết lạch của mình. Dạo này nhìn phim dửng dưng quá. Haiz, ko lẽ phụ nữ chỉ dc chọn 1 trong 2 thứ: tình yêu hoặc sự nghiệp :v

  11. Awesome review, Ruth! I am beyond excited to see this later in the week. It’s easily one of my most anticipated films of the year, and I can’t wait to see if it lives up to all this phenomenal hype! 🙂

  12. Great review Ruth, and fantastic score! Truly getting me more and more excited. I wanted to go this past weekend, but didn’t get to it, but it is DEFINITELY on the menu for this weekend!

    1. Hope you do get to see it this weekend, Zoë! It really is fantastic, highly likely that it’d end up on my top 10 BEST list of the year!

    1. Hi Chris, long time no *see*! 🙂 Oh yeah, do check out ‘Rise’, I think you’d appreciate Caesar’s journey a lot more. This sequel is definitely worth checking out on the big screen though.

  13. Great review Ruth! I just saw it, and I loved it as well! I hope it lands on my top 10 this year. It really is an astonishing piece of work. Like you said, it’s an immersive experience, and the story takes priority to the visual effects, which are also top-notch.

    Hopefully, the Academy will give Andy Serkis an Honorary Oscar at some point. He DESERVES it!

    1. I have a feeling it would land on my top 10, but maybe it’s too early to tell. I still need to do my top ten of the first half of the year.

      I just read something about Serkis where he seemed to piss a lot of visual effects technicians, so I hope he doesn’t get too cocky about his mo-cap prowess. I really respect his work and I’m still rooting for him to get some kind of recognition but that article gives me a sour taste in my mouth.

  14. I was tempted to see it at the theater this weekend, but the long lines and the “family” vibe are likely going to keep me away for at least one more week. I tend to wait a bit to watch the big blockbusters I really want to see. Maybe I just have a general distaste of a packed theater full of ruffling bags, scattered laughter, people walking to go to the bathroom all the time, the occasional conversation in the distance, etc. You catch my drift haha.
    Let me just say I really enjoyed the first one (my rating was 4/5) and I expect this to be even better given that the story just appears to be getting started and that the film is in the hands of a capable director like Matt Reeves. He’s actually an interesting outside choice, having done a much more modest disaster film with a monster, and a horror flick remake that was excellent.
    Anyhow, look forward to watching and thanks for your very fine review Ruth.

    1. Ahah, I hear ya Niels. I know some people can’t stand the crowd in the cinemas and sometimes you have to deal w/ rude people, crying kids, etc. I for one don’t mind it, the occasional nuisance doesn’t deter me from it entirely.

      If you like the first film, then I highly recommend this one. Reeves expanded the story and also makes it even more suspenseful w/ a touch of horror mixed in. Yet it’s still very emotional. Do check it out!

  15. Just finished my review 🙂
    And amazingly when I finally read your review…we both have the same opinion, especially on how the plot is the main focus not the visual. I freakin LOVE this movie!! I am going to see it again this week 🙂

    1. Hey Nov sorry I just realized you left a comment here. Well I’ve read your review, glad you love this as much as I did! Let me know what you think after your second viewing!

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  17. arron

    What is that song that plays during the gas station scene? It’s a classic and want to know name and singer of it please!!

  18. Had to bookmark the reviews again. Only just saw the film.

    Great review. The film is an excellent visual and conceptual improvement of the first and that’s impressive in its own right. And Andy Serkis retains his Title as the master of motion capture.

    “Apes. Together. Strong.”

    1. Hey Tim, glad you love this too man! Yep, sometimes my hubby and I would recite that quote… “Apes. Together. Strong” or “Apes. Do. Not. Want. War.” Great stuff!

      And yep, Serkis should get an honorary award for his mo-cap work, tho I hope he doesn’t get too cocky. Seems that lots of SFX tech guys were miffed at his comment that he does ALL the work of mo-cap while obviously we know there’s a lot of technical work to be done to capture his performance, so those visual effects people do the groundwork too!

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