Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

My bet is that most people will enter the theatre expecting a human story featuring apes and be surprised to find an ape story featuring humans. I, for one, never thought that Gary Oldman would ever play second fiddle to primates. It does work, however, and the technology behind this great idea almost makes you forget that you’re watching a pretty standard war movie. I still highly recommend it, especially if you liked Rise two years ago.


A great political drama featuring apes.

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There is something truly ballsy with this film’s opening scene. First, Caesar is quickly established as the main character–yes, the same anthropomorphic ape who led the revolution against humans the first time around. The writers actually attempted to lure us into sympathizing with him and his tribe without resorting to spoken words. Judging by the near-silent crowd in my theater, the gamble paid off big time.

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As two gentle apes wander around the jungle, they stumble on humans who freak the hell out and kill one of them. The following stare-off between Caesar and the hunters is perfectly done. The sight of menacing apes hanging in trees, followed by Caesar’s first word, is bone-chilling. The fact that this exciting scene follows a near fifteen minutes of character building probably makes it all the more captivating.

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It is quickly established that Koba and Caesar will have tactical disagreements all movie long, in somewhat of a staple for a tribal war political movies (categorize that, Netflix). They do agree on the first strategy, though, which is to scare the piss out of humans. On horses, no less. Pay attention to this scene, as you can almost hear the heartbeat of your fellow moviegoers quickening from the intimidation.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Fun” title=”Assembling the diplomacy crew”/]

Our main character, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), gives us a quick rundown of what he had to go through since the apes went, well, apeshit. There is a vague sense of The Walking Dead in this backstory, which I won’t complain about too much because the writers managed to put together the perfect cast of characters with a clear mission in about five minutes of running time. I appreciate the efficiency, even if it’s not terribly original.

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I still can’t believe how much good CGI acting Matt Reeves managed to stuff in this movie. There is a lot of time spent in the primate village where we get to appreciate Caesar’s thought process as well as his love for his kind. It’s also the perfect set up for his story arc later on, where he will finally give up on his notion of race supremacy. The cutest baby ape doesn’t hurt the empathy factor either.

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Malcolm manages to get enough diplomacy points and starts working on bringing back power to his people. While his plan isn’t exactly clear, it seems pretty obvious that he shouldn’t have pressed the detonation button while hanging out in tiny tunnels under the dam. It’s the first stupid decision for the sake of plot mobility, so I’ll give it a pass.

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What a great scene. Koba is sent on a spying mission, where he gets caught by two armed humans. A magnificent stare-off ends with Koba acting like a goof, making them think that they are indeed superior to these dumb monkeys. Even better is the fact that this scene pays off a few minutes later with Koba killing them point blank, this movie’s most violent yet efficient scene.

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Just as things seem to get a tiny bit better, Koba unleashes his inner Brutus by shooting Caesar. However heartbreaking this moment was, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed that the movie would follow such a standard path. Indeed, there wasn’t any real storyline surprise after this point.

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While there aren’t too many action scenes in this movie, there are a few good visual moments for us to see us off. My favorite was when Koba takes over a tank but can’t quite control it, so it starts spinning around. It gives us a great panoramic view of the war going on between humans and apes all around San Francisco.

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The final confrontation between Caesar and Kobe happens the way it should. They fight and that’s that. It isn’t all that surprising, but what happens next truly is: he lets him die in front of his tribe, showing us how far he’s come since the first movie. Caesar has become a great antihero full of remorse for leading his people into a spiraling conflict. The fact that he is our main character amazes me.

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