Movie Review: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Starring
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Gary Oldman, Kirk Acevedo
Director
Matt Reeves

It’s always a great feeling to walk into a movie with low expectations and come out pleasantly surprised, as was the case with Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a prequel that no one was really clamoring for apart from the franchise’s most diehard fans. And yet by proving that it was possible to make a great “Planet of the Apes” film, it raised the bar in the process, creating a whole new set of obstacles for any movie that followed, including whether it could live up to or even surpass its predecessor. But while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” stands above and beyond the original films, as well as most of the other movies released this summer, Matt Reeves’ much darker sequel is unable to match the emotional resonance of the previous installment, although it certainly tries.

Set a decade after the events of the first prequel, “Dawn” opens in a very different San Francisco from when we last saw it. The Simian Flu (a contagious virus spread by the Alzheimer’s drug that James Franco’s scientist created in “Rise”) has wiped out most of humanity, while the apes continue to thrive in their forest community located on the outskirts of the city. But when a small group of humans (led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm) accidentally wanders onto the apes’ home turf while searching for a hydroelectric dam capable of bringing power back online, their arrival re-ignites the feud between leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and right-hand ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who have vastly different opinions on how to handle the trespassers. Caesar agrees to allow Malcom and his team to stay and repair the generator in order to keep the peace between mankind and apes, but Koba’s deep mistrust leads him to discover that the human survivors have stockpiled weapons in their downtown sanctuary, and fearing that they’ll attack first, he betrays Caesar and leads an all-out assault against the humans.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to July

july

After a mostly disappointing June that saw the release of very few summer tentpole films (and even fewer that were any good), this month seems poised to follow suit with an equally lackluster lineup. There are a couple blockbuster-sized movies on tap in July (like the follow-up to the “Planet of the Apes” prequel and Dwayne Johnson’s long-gestating Hercules film), but everything else feels very un-summery, including a Fourth of July weekend devoid of a big action movie. Instead, America gets to celebrate its freedom with Melissa McCarthy, and that’s pretty telling of just how poor this summer season has been.

“DELIVER US FROM EVIL”

Who: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn and Chris Coy
What: NY police officer Ralph Sarchie joins forces with a priest schooled in the rituals of exorcism to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city.
When: July 2nd
Why: I know what you’re thinking: yet another horror movie that’s supposedly inspired by real-life events? But while the setup may seem more than a little contrived, Hollywood has proven on numerous occasions that you can still make an excellent horror film no matter how preposterous its claims may be. (Remember a little movie called “The Exorcist”?) Scott Derrickson is also one of the better directors currently working in the genre, and with a cast that includes Eric Bana and the underrated Edgar Ramirez, “Deliver Us from Evil” certainly has the potential to follow in the footsteps of last year’s “The Conjuring” as one of the surprise hits of this summer.

“TAMMY”

Who: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd and Mark Duplass
What: After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, a woman hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.
When: July 2nd
Why: Melissa McCarthy clearly didn’t get the memo that her 15 minutes of fame are up, because the actress (who’s essentially a less talented female version of Chris Farley) keeps plugging away with dumb movie after dumb movie. And to make matters worse, studios continue to green light these so-called comedies because they make obscene amounts of money. Then again, so do those god-awful spoof films and just about anything produced by Tyler Perry. If “Identity Thief” and “The Heat” weren’t evidence enough that McCarthy is one of the most annoying, undeserving movie stars in Hollywood, then surely “Tammy” (which she co-wrote with husband/director Ben Falcone) will finally put an end to America’s baffling love affair with her.

“DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES”

Who: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke and Kodi-Smit McPhee
What: 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.
When: July 11th
Why: My expectations were pretty low going into “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which is why it was such a pleasant surprise that the movie was actually good. But while another installment in Fox’s franchise reboot was inevitable, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” seems to have lost a lot of what made the prequel so unique from the rest of the series. It still takes place well before the 1968 original, but now the apes are walking, talking and even riding on horses while firing machine guns. That’s a far cry from Rupert Wyatt’s more down-to-earth prequel, so here’s hoping that director Matt Reeves is able to retain some of the humanity from that film.

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