‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Writers: Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria and Amiah Miller

Synopsis: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mystic quest to avenge his kind.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Planet of the Apes was a movie that changed the movie scene due to its amazing practical effects, visual storytelling – apes of horses! – and vision of the future. Sure the series went to some crazy places and out there ideas. No serious watch them or look it up, but the series always had a special place in people’s hearts, and after a lackluster attempt with Tim Burton’s version – although credit where credit is due with those practical effects – the series got a much needed shot-in-the-arm with the reboot back in 2011 in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Lead by motion-capture pioneer Andy Serkis with WETA Digital helping with the groundbreaking special effects, Rise became an instant hit with fans and nonfans alike. Serkis’ Caesar was a compelling character that made us feel and root for him to win, which meant yes, humans are the bad guys and had to be stopped. We then got Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which added an extra layer, it wasn’t humans vs. apes, it was humans vs. apes vs. apes, thanks to Toby Kebbell’s Koba, who hated what humans did to apes, and Caesar, who saw the good in humans once and believes that there could be peace. Now, of course, we get War for the Planet of the Apes, a great end to a great trilogy.

War picks up a couple years after the events of Dawn, and we now sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) with the remaining apes living in hiding in the woods from a group of soldiers lead by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After two attacks on their home, Caesar has had enough and decides to get revenge. Breaking away from the apes, and sending them to a new promised home, Caesar is followed by his trusted and closest friends in Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). Eventually they come across a young girl, played by Amiah Miller, who has lost the ability to speak, and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), an ape that has learned to talk just be being around humans. What follows is Caesar struggling with his darker side to get revenge, but also still trying to remain the leader to his people

Despite the summer releases of all the films, and the massive – and impressive –special effects, this Apes franchise never really feels like a summer movie. They could have easily turned this into a full-fledged apes vs. humans series, but instead they made every film about making Caesar a fully fleshed out and complex character. The film could be looked at as character study on both sides. Are the apes the heroes, or are the humans. Yes, there are good humans like James Franco’s Will or Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, but for every good few humans, there are extremely bad humans like Harrelson’s The Colonel, who take the extreme.

Caesar fights for his people and to keep them safe, but so do the humans, and in this case Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel has a reasonable case for his actions. Although anyone in that kind of position will probably say their position is right, but in this case, he’s somewhat right. That said, that is another reason why I love this rebooted trilogy. It gives you both sides of the argument and lets you choose, but Caesar is such a great character and seeing his journey for three films now, you have to root for him.

Of course, some of that goes to Andy Serkis. Serkis’ subtle nuances always made Caesar feel more human, if that makes some sense. Here it’s the same, Caesar is still conflicted, but still has his purpose but is stuck figuring out if he wants to continue doing things his way or if he falls for the darkness that Koba told him he would and should do. That’s why his advisory here in Harrelson’s The Colonel is a great one. Like Caesar, The Colonel only has one purpose and will do whatever it takes to complete it.

When it comes to the rest of the cast, it’s hard to really judge all of them considering they are mostly all motion-capture. When it comes to the new characters in Bad Ape, he brings some humor to the otherwise dark toned film, and all of it works and is not forced. Then there’s Amiah Miller’s character who is a huge homage and Easter Egg to the original series that ties in where the future of the series can go, but also do their own version. Also, credit to Miller, who’s still relativity new to Hollywood, on what she was able to pull off here given that she doesn’t talk at all.

Speaking of homage and Easter Eggs, War does have a few more besides Miller’s character, but there is something that I really liked that they added that connects to the original. It was something that feels small, but when you look at past films, and potentially future films, it completely works and makes sense – although part of me kind of wishes they don’t make any more after this.

All in all, War for the Planet of the Apes has it all; action, drama, humor, beautiful cinematography by Michael Seresin and score by Michael Giacchino. More importantly, War is a fitting end to a near perfect trilogy that gave us a great character in Caesar played by Andy Serkis. While part of me would somewhat like to see where this franchise goes from here, the other part of me hopes they leave it at that.

War for the Planet of the Apes

4.5 out of 5

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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Writer: J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow, and Mark Hamill

Synopsis: 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The first Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I have already seen the movie twice, and the review was ready to go on Friday. However, I wanted to wait until this week to post the review. The review is spoiler-free, but still.*

 

Look, I’m not even going to pretend that this review is going to be easy to write. Not because I thought the film was bad, because it wasn’t, but because this film is so surrounded by secrecy that most of you probably won’t read this until after you watch the film – and I wouldn’t blame you. So, I’ll keep my promise to you that this will be a spoiler review and I’ll do my best to not even hint at any possible spoiler or could be considered a spoiler.

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The Force Awakens starts off like every Star Wars film before it, with the crawl. The crawl lets us know the important thing and the plot point that will set up the new trilogy: Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is missing – hence why’s he’s not in any promotional material – and in his disappearance a evil arises called The First Order lead by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and his generals in General Hux (Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Driver). The one thing standing in their way is the Resistance which is lead by General Leia (Fisher) who has been fighting them since they rose to power after the Empire feel. In the middle of all this are our new heroes and lead in a Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), a scavenger Rey, a former Stormtrooper who’s now on the run, and a droid in BB-8. Along the way they meet up with familiar faces in Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (Mayhew) who also help them out to fight off the First Order and their new weapon that threatens the galaxy.

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It’s hard not to see the familiar structure of other Star Wars films in The Force Awakens, but what director J.J. Abrams was able to do with the similarities was create something that still felt fresh and was excited to watch from beginning to end. Abrams doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia, although there are scenes that are oozed in it, but instead takes what the series has already given us and adds to it. The Force Awakens has great action, cinematography and more importantly, it’s a ton of fun and lets us get to know the characters that we want to root for them and follow their journey to the end. You can arguably say that maybe The Force Awakens relies too much of the similar story structure, but it works nonetheless.

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The new characters are great, and not a stinker in the bunch. Oscar Isaac is the first new character we see and he brings a nice swagger and charm, that to be honest, I was not expecting and that’s coming from a Oscar Isaac fan. John Boyega’s Finn also brings his own swagger and charm and even brings some of the funniest moments in the film. At the same time, we’re seeing a different side in the battle between the Dark Side and the Light Side. Finn leaves the First Order and abandons his role as a Stormtrooper. We’ve haven’t really seen that side before, and given that Finn is probably one of the characters you really can’t nail down. Sure, he does heroic things in the film and is on the side of the resistance, but he was a Stormtrooper too. Boyega handles it well and if your first exposure to Boyega was Attack the Block like mine, you know he was able to rise to the challenge.

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Finally, Daisy Ridley as Rey is one of the best characters in the film. She feels like a real person and is a character that you can easily root for. She’s not just a badass character, but one that can be vulnerable, funny, and naïve. Rey, similar to Finn, is looking for more in her life. She’s also heard the stories of Luke, Han and Leia, and is wide-eyed to find out that all of it was real and she’s now going on her own adventure. Rey will definitely be a highlight for many once they watch the film. Of course, there’s BB-8 as well. I mean come on, have you seen the commercial’s, have the droids in the past not been great? BB-8 was awesome too.

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Now let’s talk about the Dark Side. Kylo Ren gets most of the screen time and attention so Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and even Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma are just a bit underdeveloped and are clearly saved for the future films, but it still would have been nice to see them a little more, especially Captain Phasma. It’s understandable, obviously, considering this is the first movie of a new trilogy, but it was a little frustrating considering all the secrecy for the characters just to be saved for future films. However, Gleeson’s Hux does get a fair amount of screen time and you really tell there is something about him and the fact that he’s younger than other Generals we’ve seen in these films.

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Thankfully, not all of The Force Awakens is CGI (I’m looking at you George Lucas!). Abrams goes back to the roots of Star Wars and has a ton (!) of practical effects and physical creatures so the cast can interact with. It could have been easier to go with CGI creatures, but the fact that Abrams and producers Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy went the route of building creatures makes the film feel so much more special. Sure there are CGI creatures, but there isn’t an over abundance of them. One of those CGI creatures is Maz Kanata, who Lupita Nyong’o does the voice and motion capture for. Her character appears right in the middle of the film and while her character doesn’t feel important, she does play an important role, and is one of the characters I’m sure we’ll see more of in the future.

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All in all, what makes The Force Awakens undoubtedly work is that the film is fun. It really is fun and funny. Abrams is always able to find a nice balance of action and comedy that they serve their purpose equally and one doesn’t overpower the other. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun and laughed with a movie since the summer and Mad Max: Fury Road. The most importantly thing the film does however is that it doesn’t lean toward or on its past. It embraces it future while paying respect to the past. Disney, Lucasfilm, Abrams, who ever deserves the credit, should be given all the credit in the world for making that move. It was great to see the old cast come back, but it was even better to see a brand new cast of characters, especially John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is truly a great addition, and continuation, to the Star Wars franchise. It will make you feel like a kid again, it will make you cry and more importantly, it will make you happy that there is another Star Wars movie in our lives.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

4.5 out of 5

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‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Review

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Dir: Joss Whedon

Writer(s): Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader (voice), Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

It’s hard to believe that Avengers: Age of Ultron is only Marvel Studios’ eleventh film, and what better way to cap it off with the second outing of one of the biggest teams in history. Joss Whedon returns to direct his last Marvel films – at least for now, hopefully – and boy does he go out with a bang. Avengers: Age of Ultron not only brings the gang back together, but also sets up the craziness that will be the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

Whedon doesn’t hold back and really shows us what the movie will be like with the opening sequence, which is a huge action sequence, with some great comedy and humor, involved, on a Hydra base as The Avengers: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Ruffalo), led an assault to capture an important item. While there they encounter The Twins, Pietro (Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), who are also called “enhanced,” and find out how deadly they can be. Wanda uses her powers to show them their worst fears, which varies on each Avenger, and I fears I won’t spoil here in the review.

 

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Moreover, Tony and Bruce discover what they think is a key to unlocking their “Ultron” program, A.I. Their hope is to have another peacekeeping option so their burden is not as strong. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and instead Ultron (voiced and motion captured by Spader) becomes a menace and sees the only way to peace is eliminating the human race and The Avengers.

 

If it is not clear by the opening sequence, Age of Ultron has a lot going on. Not only do we have the new characters, but also the multiple arcs going on that set up not just the rest of the movie, but also the future films, in particular Thor Ragnarok which actually slows down the movie a bit. One of the things that the movie is doing is pretty much showing us these characters aren’t always perfect, but also have their bad or imperfect sides, despite being labeled “superheroes.” They are still, for most of them anyway, human, they have flaws. Can they keep fighting forever?

 

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The other part that slows down the movie is the return of Nick Fury (Jackson). Don’t get me wrong, it is great to see Jackson back as Fury, but even his scenes slow down the movie too. Are they important scenes? Sort of. Fury is there to somewhat remind The Avengers why the world depends on them and why they were bought together, but during the third act they find that out themselves anyway.

 

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So let’s get the cast. Everyone has their moment to shine. The already established cast members do great in the roles as usual and do even better with the added depth the plot of the movie is giving them. Jeremy Renner’s Barton/Hawkeye does get some renewed justice, after playing a zombified henchman in The Avengers. He has a great and surprising arc in this that finally gives the character justice and more than a secondary character. Johansson’s Black Widow and Ruffalo’s Hulk have their blooming romance, which makes a bit more sense when you see it fully played out onscreen. Downey Jr. and Evans tease out their Civil War bout with their ideals on what to do with Ultron, and Hemsworth’s Thor is well, Hemsworth’s Thor (not in a bad way).

 

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As for the new cast members, they’re a bit hit-and-miss. Let’s start with the obvious, James Spader’s Ultron. I don’t like to compare the comics to the movies, because they movies are their own thing, but the Ultron here is a bit different from the comics (and that’s as far as I’ll go with that). The movie version of Ultron is a bit all over the place. For the most part, he is ruthless and wants to rid the world of pretty much everything and everyone. However, he does a quality that Spader really nails and makes Ultron a little bit more complex and truly a creation of Tony Stark. It was rather odd to behold, but kind of welcomed.

 

Secondly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen as the twins Pietro and Wanda. Yes, they do have European accents, and no, they are not mutants (damn you 20th Century Fox, DAMN YOU). Instead, the Maximoff twins have been experimented on by Hydra’s scientists, mainly Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschamann), and are called “enhanced,” for their special powers for super speed and telekinesis and other psychic powers. It’s fairly clear in all the promotional that the twins work with Ultron at the start of the film and eventually end up working with The Avengers, which any comic book fan and maybe even casual fans would have guessed, so I don’t really consider that a spoiler. Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro, not Quicksilver which I don’t believe he’s ever called in the film, is cocky and a bit brash, while Olsen’s Wanda –also never called Scarlet Witch from what I recall, but is called witch by Tony– is both vulnerable, but mostly dangerous.

 

The two are a bit underutilized unfortunately. They have their own story as to why they want to team up with Ultron at the start, but after that they really don’t do a hell of a lot. Yes, they play a role in the final act, but this is the trouble with having so many moving parts, it was bound to happen. Again, that isn’t to say they don’t have their moments to shine, more so with Wanda as Olsen gets the edge of screentime than her onscreen brother, but as a whole they are just okay until the final act of the movie.

 

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Finally, Paul Bettany as Jarvis/The Vision. It’s a bit weird to say Bettany is a new cast member, since he has been a part of the MCU since day one as the voice of Stark’s helpful computer program Jarvis. But here in Age of Ultron, he is physically there with everyone as The Vision. I won’t say how he comes to be in the movie, but when he finally shows up and how he shows up it is truly great to see. More importantly, it is more great to see Bettany finally be an actual part/physically there for The Avengers from this point forward.

 

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There are some nice small appearances in there. Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders pop up during the fun and funny party scene that happens before the “Lift Thor’s Hammer Challenge.” Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, which if you’re not a big comic book fan, you should try to remember his face and name for the future. There is some other surprises, but I’ll leave you to see those yourself.

 

Age of Ultron is filled with great action, the opening sequence is great and the Hulk vs. Tony in his Hulkbuster suit was awesome, but it is also filled with great humor. Yes, some of the jokes fall flat or feel unnecessary, but most of them feel right and it’s nice to have a laugh when despair and destruction is going around. Also, there are some serious surprises in this, that I won’t spoil, but one truly comes to mind that I’m sure many fans will be talking about.

 

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All in all, Avengers: Age of Ultron does have a lot of stuff going on, but Joss Whedon being Joss Whedon manages to be able to balance a large chuck of it and make a great sequel to what many thought, would be an impossible team-up movie. Age of Ultron has it all; action, drama, humor, and a great cast. You will surely have a fun time watching this. Of course, stay for the first credits scene, no after credits scene.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

4.5 out of 5

 

 

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review

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Dir: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nick Thurston, Judy Greer, and Gary Oldman

Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise has gone through a lot from; ahead of its time, shocking, good, bad, weird and terrible. It has touched on political issues and questions that no one dared touched, but has also shown us how far people will go to do what they think is right. The original series came out before I was born (but I have watched and appreciated them) and then saw the horrible Tim Burton Planet of the Apes. Luckily, the series rebooted and gave us the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes giving us not just a brand new series but giving us fresh new opportunities. Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continue that? Quick answer, yes. And gives us a hell of a lot more.

 

The movie starts off giving us a quick and eerie rundown of how mankind has been ravaged by the “Simian Flu” followed by a war that left only small modest groups of human colonies.  Ten years later, Caesar (Serkis) and his apes have grown and thrived in the woods.  They’ve become smarter, self-sufficient, built a home, and have a tight-knit community built on laws such as “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” and “Apes Together Strong.”  Caesar leads his community with wisdom and has also become a family ape with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), newborn child, and son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).

 

However, Caesar’s life is disrupted when Malcolm (Clarke), his wife Ellie (Russell), his son Alexandra (Smit-McPhee) and others accidentally stumble into the apes’ territory while trying to repair a dam that will supply power to their colony.  Caesar must then decide if he can protect his apes through isolationism, a tenuous truce, or agreeing with his chief lieutenant Koba (Kebbell), who wants to start a war against the humans.

 

One of the great things about the movie is director Matt Reeves does not make us wait to see Caesar and the apes. After eerie opening, we see the apes right off the part. Matter of fact, the movie spends time more with the apes than the humans. Caesar’s people communicate through a mix of limited speech, signing, and body language. The ape children attend school, where Maurice, the orangutan from Rise and Caesar’s trusted adviser, teaches lessons like how to write and one that I stated earlier “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape.”

 

Although the movie has many standouts (which I will get to them later) the main standout is Andy Serkis as Caesar. This time around Caesar is older and wiser. He bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. With every body movement you can feel the responsibilities that he is wrestling with, regarding not just leading his fellow apes but also taking care of his family and guiding his elder son into adulthood. Serkis is one of the masters, if not the master, of motion capture and his turn as Caesar this time around with the help of WETA is truly one of his best works.

 

The dynamic between Caesar and Clarke’s Malcolm is a strong arc in the movie. The two have much in common, as Malcolm is also trying to protect his family and his people. It’s an uneasy truce that’s made between the two, but it comes from a shared understanding that they’re both working for the same thing — for family, for community, and for the future.

 

Of course some of the apes don’t agree with helping the humans and those are lead by Koba. While played by stunt performer Christopher Gordon in the first film, Reeves recast the role with actor Toby Kebbell. The probable reason is that Koba is a key player in the events of Dawn, and Kebbell gives Serkis a run for his money in the performance-capture acting and is much more than one-dimensional. Koba has pledged himself to Caesar ever since he freed him from the experimental laboratories of the first film, where the ape was operated on hundreds of times by human scientists. His hate for man is strong, and you can’t really blame him. He shows Caesar the scars from the human mistreatment.

 

The relationship between Caesar and Koba is just one of the many remarkable, textured character back and forwards of the film. Koba is given to outbursts as he questions Caesar’s approach to the humans, but when Caesar rebukes his old ally, Koba begs for forgiveness with an extended hand and a posture of supplication. Caesar embraces his friend’s hand with sympathy, accepting his apology as he understands the complexity of the situation and Koba’s misgivings. It’s a strong moment, but it becomes so much more as it’s repeated a couple of more times throughout the film, with each slight variation on the same interaction informing us greatly about how the relationship between the two is changing.

 

While the ape actors are great, including a string of lesser known performers including Konoval and Nick Thurston (who plays Caesar’s son Blue Eyes), we can’t overlook what WETA has done here. This movie is full of apes, and they’re very often in exterior locations or engaged in battles or riding freaking horses! All technically complex and next-level stuff. Oh, and the apes on horses? There are certain unforgettable shots on this front that make that very concept as cool and thrilling as it must’ve seemed when the original franchise came out. Reeves also utilizes the WETA magic to create some truly beautiful images. Much of this stuff gets into spoiler territory, but it truly is beautiful to see.

 

As for the human cast, it is hit and miss. Jason Clarke is great as always as he sees Caesar trying to basically do the same thing but under different circumstances. Clarke’s Malcolm sees the apes as more than just “animals” as Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus does. Keri Russell has her moments here and there but overall doesn’t do much and the same can more said for Smit-McPhee. Gary Oldman however is unfortunately underused in this. While he does have some strong moments he disappears for a chuck of the film and even when he returns he isn’t nearly as strong as he could have been.

 

Matt Reeves, who takes over for Rupert Wyatt, really expands the world that Wyatt had only developed. Rise was also filled with more obvious homage’s to the original series, Reeves holds back and makes the occasional and subtle references like using bits of the original score and an ending that is very Planet of the Apes. Although, there are some similarities of other huge moments of the original series that might be lost on the causal Planet of the Apes fans but to the hardcore fans – or ones that binged watched the series before watching Dawn – those will stick out.

 

Ultimately, the great Planet of the Apes movies all share one very important element: a willingness to examine and contemplate the issues facing the real world. And Dawn certainly falls into this category. While the always-relevant notions of family, friendship, and the responsibility to protect both run deep in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there is much more here as well for those who are willing to look. I won’t say what they are here just in case you want to see them unfold in the film yourself but all of these concepts are left to ponder.

 

All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does what the best of Hollywood genre movies can do — it’s exciting, thrilling, and visually amazing to look at. But it’s so much more than that as well. Reeves is a great addition and arguably has made a better movie than Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But this movie belongs to Serkis and Kebbell who give amazing performances, and all through motion capture.

 

Hail Caesar!

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

5 out of 5