Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Movies

Entertainment Movies

Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' ★★★

Three summers ago "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" proved it's possible to reboot a franchise while avoiding that sinking feeling of movie capitalism at its dumbest.

Now, in a disappointing July dominated with a shrug by "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the follow-up "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has arrived. Just in time. The nation's multiplexes need a solid hit to save face and lend the impression that all's right with the business preferences and practices in Hollywood. Whatever audiences think of it, I'd say the latest "Apes" picture is just that: a solid success, sharing many of its predecessor's swift, exciting storytelling and motion-capture technology virtues, while going its own way in the ongoing tale of life on Earth after a human-made "simian flu" virus has wiped out most of the homo sapiens as well as the simian population.

The director this time is Matt Reeves, no stranger to fantasy; he made "Cloverfield" and the American remake of the vampire thriller "Let the Right One In" titled "Let Me In." The war between the ravaged species in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has driven the surviving ape colony led by proud, diplomatic Caesar (Andy Serkis) to the redwoods north of San Francisco. "Ape not kill ape" is the principle of this clan, and the system works: They're alive.

But not alone. One day in the forest (the movie was shot mostly in British Columbia) the apes encounter a human survivor, played by Jason Clarke, on a recon mission to determine if a nearby dam can be restored to provide power to an increasingly desperate clutch of human city dwellers down in the Bay Area. Gary Oldman is their de facto leader, eager to take back the planet by any means necessary.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" runs about 25 minutes longer than "Rise." The movie has trouble finding its rhythm in the third act and feels somewhat padded. Yet there's a lot going on in this film. As with the recent "Godzilla," there's an essential gravity to the mood here. And the human interest element is more present and persuasive in "Dawn," thanks to Clarke and his fellow Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee (of "Let Me In"), who plays his troubled son, and to reliable Keri Russell, as Clarke's lover, the kindest, warmest human left on the planet and one of the reasons Caesar doesn't kill them all in the first 30 minutes of the movie.

Serkis is the world's preeminent motion-capture performer, having lent his physicality and vocal flourishes to King Kong and "Lord of The Ring's" Gollum prior to the soulful, tormented Caesar of the "Apes" series. At this point in the motion-capture effects industry, there's little question of believing what we're seeing. We believe. We believe there is an actor, a real actor, in there, behind the eyes of the digital creation. This is why the film, despite its bloat and its overfondness for scenes of massacre, feels as if it were made by actual humans.

Two other things about this movie make it noteworthy. One is the musical score by composer Michael Giacchino, the best in the business right now. The tension and the atmosphere he evokes with a surprising array of instruments (he's especially creative in the percussion and keyboard realm) enhance every aspect of the viewing experience. It's an old-school sound, recalling elements of Jerry Goldsmith, among others, and it's remarkably free of bombast.

The other is the inescapable political element. I write this as a Chicagoan whose city has become an international symbol of gun violence bordering on insanity. In "Dawn," Caesar's ape colony has no use for firearms; only when Koba (Toby Kebbell), the vicious, ambitious rival ape, gets hold of humankind's weapons does the utopian community turn against itself. The movie's pretty grim. Then again, the whole "Planet of the Apes" mythology depends on a vision of the future that speaks very, very poorly of humankind's ability to trust and adapt and play well with others.

Following the "Dawn" screening I ducked into "Transformers 4" just long enough to see Mark Wahlberg exclaim, in awe, "Weapons!" when a glorious cache of mass-destruction implements are revealed. The "Apes" saga is different — sadder and wiser. The latest film is no less a commodity than those manufactured by Michael Bay, but it doesn't treat the audience like a bunch of gorillas.

mjphillips@tribune.com

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" - 3 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language)

Running time: 2:10

Opens: Thursday evening

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • 'San Andreas' review: Demolition derby

    'San Andreas' review: Demolition derby

    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. The fault is the star of "San Andreas," a fairly entertaining weapon of mass destruction reminding us that life's blessings come to those who receive preferential billing.

  • 'Aloha' review: Hawaii so-so

    'Aloha' review: Hawaii so-so

    For context's sake, the new Cameron Crowe film "Aloha" is a tick up from the dregs of "Elizabethtown" and a tick down from "We Bought a Zoo." The Media Action Network for Asian-Americans calls it a "whitewashed" version of Hawaii, a state that is roughly 30 percent Caucasian in real life and, as...

  • 'Yves Saint Laurent' review: Haute drama

    'Yves Saint Laurent' review: Haute drama

    Even in a contemporary film culture where no idea seems too thin to try twice, the arrival of two Yves Saint Laurent biopics in the space of five months counts as a distinct curiosity: The enduring influence of the French fashion god, who died in 2008, is beyond question, but his life doesn't seem...

  • 'Good Kill,' with Ethan Hawke, targets human costs of drone warfare

    'Good Kill,' with Ethan Hawke, targets human costs of drone warfare

    Form matches content in "Good Kill," a movie about the desensitizing effects of drone warfare. Repeated, suffocating scenes of remote warfare make you acutely aware of the soul-draining despair felt by its pilot protagonist.

  • 'Slow West' review: Novel gunslingers

    'Slow West' review: Novel gunslingers

    There's an alien feel to "Slow West," an unconventionally conventional Western about a romantic tenderfoot provided safe passage to the frontier by a grizzled, unsentimental gunman.

  • 'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    'Tomorrowland' review: Clooney imagineers hope

    By now you probably heard that the series finale of "Mad Men" ended with adman Don Draper dressed in loose-fitting whites, chanting "om" on the lawn of a commune in California, perched at the edge of the Pacific, the 1960s having slid into the 1970s. Then, just as we assumed Don had found spiritual...

Comments
Loading

84°