Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

I really liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and this sequel, which occurs some ten years after the events of that film, is even better.  The original 1968-1973 quintet ranged from astonishing to cheesy; 20th Century-Fox couldn’t or wouldn’t sustain the brilliance of Franklin Schaffner’s first film as they slashed the budgets of the sequels. Had the studio been able to forecast how invested fans would become in the series, that might have changed.  It has changed with this new generation of films, which are being produced with all the tender loving care that the concept deserves.

Director Matt Reeves picks up the torch and runs with it, illuminating how the apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) have forged a community outside of San Francisco while the “simian flu” has decimated the human world.  The two cultures intersect again as a small group of people attempt to restart a dam in the apes’ territory that would restore power to the city.  Caesar allows them to proceed and prevents war as long as he can, but some of his hairy brethren prove to be as shifty as the humans they do not trust.

The story uses parallels between the two cultures to document how similarly they think and act.  The apes are often more human than the people they try to avoid, while the people are often more barbaric or stupid than the animals they fear.  One can also read political statements into the story as well, for the apes only become truly fearsome when they have access to the same weapons that the humans do.  It is also made quite clear that maintaining a peace once the threat of annihilation is present is darn near impossible, even with the best of intentions.

An awful lot of this film involves computer-generated imagery (CGI); thankfully, much of that imagery, particularly involving the ape settlement, is remarkable and absolutely convincing.  CGI allows filmmakers to create entire worlds how they wish, and in this case, the computer wizards have delivered a marvel.  Only in the ape attack battle and collapsing tower sequence are the effects less than sensational. These effects wonderfully support the story of two disparate groups trying to survive an apocalypse, rather than overwhelm it, as in many other sci-fi adventures.

When done with care, science-fiction movies can not only thrill us with their visual acumen but stimulate us with moral, social and political dilemmas.  The finest examples of the genre blend premise, plotting, acting, staging, style and substance into a delicate balance that opens windows in our minds through which flow grand ideas, surprises, emotions and excitement.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is such a treasure.  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆.  11 July 2014.

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