Just joking…I keed, I keed! I do know what day it is. I haven’t just awoke from a strange coma and somehow skipped a day, of course I realize it’s Friday, but that headline is just for those people who don’t read this article, just scan the page, so shhh….don’t give it away.
The actual reason for the delay is that this weeks column is going to play double duty. As well as being a Theater Thursday column, it’s also going to be a review of the only film coming out this week, the brilliant new Planet of the Apes film.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (PG-13 130 Minutes)
Picking up a full 10 years after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this film opens on a world that has been decimated by the super flu that we saw spreading across the world in the closing credits of that film.
In fact, the opening moments of this film trace the outbreak and slow decline of the world into chaos that reminds me of the opening credits of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. It is very effective and very creepy to watch a super virus spread when the filmmakers use actual footage of government players from news bites that have been only slightly changed from their actual use during national crisis like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Once we get past that, we find Caesar, now fully in command of the super intelligent apes that escaped captivity at the end of the first film, leading a hunt for food. This is an amazing scene to witness. Watching the apes, communicating with each other via sign language as they coordinate their attack is thrilling.
In fact,the first few minutes of the film are done without any talking, because it seems only Caesar is able to use human speech to communicate, so this could be the first major summer blockbuster to feature sign language as it’s dominate form of talking.
We then meet the surviving humans, led by Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman, who have founded a colony of humans in what used to be San Fransisco, and are doing their best to claw their way back to civilization after almost being wiped off the earth from the virus and then the civil war that is hinted at but never fully explained.
The final step for them to return to some form of normalcy is turning the power back on in the city and that involves getting the hydro-electric dam up and running again. If you think that Caesar and his group of apes have built their colony on top of this dam, then give yourself a cookie.
It is inevitable that these two groups are going to meet and it’s also inevitable that there is going to be friction and hostility break out at some point. The brilliant thing this script does is keep you guessing as to when that is going to happen. The even more amazing thing that happens is, by the time it does happen, you are praying that it doesn’t. It is a testament to the writers and the director, Matt Reeves, that both the Apes and the humans are so well written and played, that you actually like both sides and want them to get along.
It was during the protracted second act of the film, after an uneasy truce has been set-up and you can feel the tension in the air, that it finally hit me: This film works so well because there is a sense of inevitability to it. Even if this wasn’t a film with “….of the Apes” in the title, you can just feel the darker forces on each side spoiling for a fight even as the calm leaders, Malcolm and Caesar, try their best to make peace work for them all.
I won’t spoil the inciting event, because it actually caught me off guard when it happened, but I will say that eventually those darker forces do get their way and there is an all out war. Again, it’s due to the brilliant writing, directing and acting by all involved, that when it comes, even though it is an epic spectacle and filled with great “Oh Wow” moments, we spend the entire time gripping the hand rest of the seat and hoping it ends before somebody gets hurt.
As someone who sat through the latest Transformers flick, beaten and dazed by the mayhem on-screen, but not invested a single ounce in what was happening, this was a reminder of what a summer blockbuster could and should be like. It should make you wince when someone you care about on-screen is in danger. This film does that. It gets that right.
Much has been written and printed about Andy Serkis and what a stunning job he has done bringing a digital character to life, and every single word has been earned. His work in this film and with this character, Caesar, makes Gollum look like a one-dimensional, cartoon character. That’s not saying that his work in Lord of the Rings isn’t great, just that this is light years beyond what was done there.
I put this in a Facebook post last night after the film and it bears repeating today, there is not a single moment of this film where you are aware of the fact that not one single Ape on-screen is real. They are all completely digital creations, and it is seamless work. The effects work in this film is top of the line, Oscar-winning stuff, and it’s a testament to the work being done and again, the writing, directing and acting by everyone involved, that not only are you not aware of it, you forget you are watching an effects film.
This is a thinking-mans blockbuster. It’s a smart, sharp film with a very clear point of view and that is something you don’t see very often in movies released in July. That’s not to say it isn’t fun, because it is. It’s a film with action, sorrow and great, stand up and cheer moments, but its all in the service of a great story. It is a whip-smart flick and it assumes its audience is whip-smart too.
It also stays true to the classic late 60’s and early 70’s film series (which I love and own by the way) in that the film ends on a somewhat dark note. I guess it could be considered a happy ending, but…not really. It’s a very real ending.
Like everything that has happened before, the ending feels inevitable. You realize there isn’t any other way for this to go.
The highest marks I can give it is, I am both excited and terrified to see where this great series goes next.
On a 1-10 scale, I give it a full 10. Brilliant.
Until next time, Keep the Projector Threaded.