Cocktails And Movies Review: “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes” – A Thinking Person’s Blockbuster

By Mike Reyes

Matt Reeves completes the franchise’s transformation from campy sci-fi classic to a full blown cerebral spectacle!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes female-babyGrowing up as a movie geek, there would be certain movies I’d be all about when it came to getting excited. I’d read any tie-in novel you could throw at me, listen to the soundtrack a handful of times beforehand, and watch tons of behind the scenes featurettes to prime myself for the movie before me. I didn’t care about spoiling the movie, I cared about putting myself into the environment of the film so I could better enjoy everything that was about to unfold. I stopped doing that for a good long while, and it took a movie like Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes to put me back on that track. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes promised a sequel that would take what was once a running joke of pop culture and turn it into something much more serious. Matt Reeves not only does this, but he also crafts a film that could be considered The Godfather Part II of science fiction.

Ten years after Rise, the Simian Flu has ravaged humanity down to a core group of survivors. Hiding out in a tower fortress in San Francisco, those who remain are plagued by memories of days gone by and the threat of future extinction. Meanwhile, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe are thriving in the Muir Woods – their home since the events of the last film. Their social strata is defined and in play, and peace rules the land as they haven’t made contact with a human for a full decade. That is, until a team lead by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) stumbles across their colony while looking for a hydroelectric generator that can ensure humanity’s survival. One singular moment is the hinge point for the histories of both human and ape, and by the end of the film there’s only one guarantee: things will never be the same.

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Matt Reeves is only on his fourth movie of his career, his third in the more recent string of projects that started with the out of exciting creature feature  Cloverfield and the carbon copy (but in the best way possible) remake that was Let Me In. Up until this point, Reeves has proven his talents behind the lens to be equal to, if not superior in certain aspects to those of his frequent collaborator, J.J. Abrams. Neither of those films can prepare the audience for how good Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes actually is. In a season that promises loud, action packed blockbusters with minimal thought required (I’m glaring at you, Transformers: Age Of Extinction), Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is the kid in the class that read Machiavelli’s The Prince and applied its lessons to its film-making. The film is loud when it has to be, action packed when it wants to be, but never overdoes it on either front, and never forgets to be a pensive examination on relations between two groups that barely get along. It is also a film that wears its influences on its sleeve, and in particular it wears a love of Steven Spielberg’s style of blockbuster filmmaking, mixed with that of Christopher Nolan.

Much like the films of Spielberg and Nolan, the spectacle doesn’t drown out the performances on display in the film. Jason Clarke, usually cast as a trademark bad ass who can take a punch as good as he can give one, shows of a softer side as Malcolm – a man who only wants to help save his people and co-exist with the beings he recognizes as the sentient equals they are. The give and take between Malcolm and Andy Serkis’ Caesar is something to behold, and only makes both men look better in terms of their thespian abilities. And let’s take a moment to throw some more praise on Mr. Serkis’ career, as he further shows the range and emotional depth that most actors dream of being able to possess, and he does so through the physicality and expressiveness he is a master of. The fact that he keeps getting overlooked at the Oscars is a damned shame, much like co-star Gary Oldman – who’s Dreyfus is another wonderful addition to his resume of talented character portrayals.

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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is one of the smartest blockbusters of the year, if not modern movie history. Matt Reeves and Andy Serkis continue to hone their respective crafts, and along with a very talented ensemble, manage to make a collective whole that blows away a lot of this year’s finest films. The action set pieces are exciting, the story’s intriguing, and Michael Giacchino’s score is the perfectly tied bow on an early Christmas present for all of us Sci Fi geeks and lovers of “good movies.” Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is not just a good movie, it’s a great movie, and I look forward to the 2016 sequel that promises so much more in store for those damned dirty apes.

My score: 5/5