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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

by Leonard Maltin
July 10, 2014 5:41 PM
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Photo Courtesy of WETA and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

As a filmmaking achievement, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is little short of miraculous. Building on the eye-popping work in the 2011 series reboot, the geniuses at WETA (led by Oscar-winner Joe Letteri) have done the impossible, giving new, ironic meaning to the phrase “seeing is believing.” Their work somehow eclipses the category of visual effects; perhaps “virtual effects” is more like it. When you see computer-generated apes interacting with humans, in the real-life setting of Muir Woods, outside of San Francisco—in 3-D, no less—you accept it all as genuine, without question.

Adding to this perception is the exceptional motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar, the dominant, human-raised ape we met in the previous film. His tribe lives in the woods, almost certain that after ten years’ time, their human enemies have been wiped out. Except they haven’t. When a scouting party arrives on their turf, hoping to restart a power plant for a community of survivors in the city, their capable but compassionate leader (Jason Clarke) manages to persuade Caesar that they mean the animals no harm.

Photo by David James - Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

This is where the screenplay (by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback) reveals some of its inherent weaknesses. Jaffa and Silver, who wrote the 2011 film, can’t resist certain B-movie tropes. (I can’t completely blame them: those ingredients tend to be crowd-pleasers.) Naturally, there’s a loutish, trigger-happy jerk in the human contingent. And just as inevitably, there is a Brutus to our simian Caesar. Koba (Toby Kebbell) has been grateful to his mentor all these years, but he interprets Caesar’s willingness to negotiate with humans as a fatal flaw, and grabs his opportunity to seize power. (It’s hard to swallow that this character, who becomes incredibly vicious and violent, has been docile for an entire decade.)

The gist of all this is that war is not precipitated by grand design but by impetuous acts of violence, which may well be true. And while apes live by a credo not to kill their own kind, it turns out that these creatures have all-too-human failings. There are good apes and bad apes, just as there are good people and bad people—not to mention well-meaning people who are easily swayed, or just don’t see the Big Picture.

Director Matt Reeves orchestrates all of this in robust fashion, but once I saw where the story was headed I felt myself detaching from the picture emotionally. Like so many tentpole movies, this one goes on a bit too long and leads to a spectacular (if unnecessary) action climax, as if it were drawn from a manual on how to make summer action films.

Photo Courtesy of WETA and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

It doesn’t help that the human characters are superficial at best. Clarke has a strong, virile screen presence, and Keri Russell is good as his companion, whose medical training comes in handy, but the impact of their characters pales in comparison to the apes. Gary Oldman is stuck in a shopworn role as leader of the San Francisco survivors who tries to unify his people, even as the apes stage a full-on attack.

Because the movie is so grand in scale, and so skillfully executed, it’s bound to please a wide audience, whether they’re looking for bloodthirsty action, massive doses of special effects, or a parable about war and peace. I can only applaud its visual achievements, but I maintain my reservations about its storytelling smarts.

Even after 46  years, the premise—and resolution—of the 1968 Planet of the Apes remain impressive and unforgettable. What’s more, the film offered moviegoers the dazzling element of surprise. This latest incarnation of the saga does just the opposite: it gives the audience exactly what it expects, in a shiny, showy package. 


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  • Paul gg | July 15, 2014 7:57 PMReply

    Well Mr. Maltin,.I guess as a MAJOR critic you can't just SLAM terrible movies anymore,.I thought it very clever of you to say,."the special effects are great"!,.But I understand,.MOVIE WAS AWFUL

  • Rory Monteith | July 14, 2014 10:36 AMReply

    For nearly 46 years, Mr. Maltin's annual Movie Guide book has called the original 1968 PLANET OF THE APES "intriguing, near-classic sci-fi." After four and a half decades, my question to Mr. Maltin and the editors of his guide is, How many decades does it take a near-classic movie to become an actual classic?

  • Patrick | July 13, 2014 1:05 AMReply

    This is an accurate review. I left the theater wanting more in the realm of character development. None of the characters change in this movie because there's no internal conflict. Very generic story guilded with special effects and action.

  • Big G | July 11, 2014 7:06 PMReply

    Leonard ADD Maltin thought the movie was too long. I'm shocked!!!

  • Big G | July 13, 2014 9:26 PM

    Freddy Fanboy apparently hasn't read many Leonard Maltin reviews.

  • Freddy Fanboy | July 12, 2014 1:03 AM

    Yeah how dare anybody say any movie is too long, especially an over-hyped, poorly scripted, senseless violence packed action flick aimed squarely at us burned out comic book reading, video game playing zombies? I'm shocked too!

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