Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Jul 13, 2014

A true blockbuster for the summer, filled with humanity both for humans and apes.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Grade: A-

Director: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)

Screenplay: Mark Bomback (Total Recall), Rick Jaffa (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Amanda Silver (The Hand that Rocks the Cradle)

Cast: Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Jason Clarke (The Great Gatsby)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 127 min.

by John DeSando

“And I want you to know, it's not just about power! It's about giving us the hope to rebuild, to reclaim the world we lost!” Dreyfus (Gary Oldman)

When is sci-fi not sci-fi? When it’s the terrific Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a blockbusting allegory for a tired summer of few standout tent poles.  The apes have evolved into semi-literate survivors (at least Caesar  played by Andy Serkis and a few other leaders) living peacefully until the “humans” return to the Muir Woods outside San Francisco looking for an old hydroelectric dam to power their shanty city.

Ten years after scientist James Franco nurtured Caesar to wisdom in the first franchise film (2011), this story exudes feeling for the difficult negotiations between, in terms we know now from the mid-East, “tribes,” whose mantra is “home.” While Dreyfus in the quote above sounds like W or Cheney, some logic prevails, like reclaiming rightful territory, just basic domicile here on earth.

The motion-capture technology is remarkably life-like as it allows Serkis to give an Oscar-worthy performance without distracting us with the wondrous graphics.  The other apes are so nimble as to seem commonplace. The visual design is impressive from the comfortable woods home of the apes to the ruins of San Francisco, formerly the most desirable living in the US, now a ghetto.

The film’s strength is that it doesn’t favor either side. No moral imperatives can be claimed by only humans or only apes; each side has legitimate claims. Although apes were here first, so to speak, humans have nurtured evolution to its high form.

Lead ape Caesar remarks the apes are getting more like humans, which means not every ape can be trusted, nor will keeping one’s word be always possible. As in most delicate talks between warring factions, trust is paramount and not easily attainable. When an underling breaks the peace, peace takes a serious tumble and is most difficult to regain.

Some of the usual tropes visit even this creative rendition, such as the human doctor (Keri Russell) is compelled to treat  Caesar’s wife, thus creating a bond; bad boy ape Koba ( Toby Kebell) challenges Caesar while causing severe hostility among the humans. Even the opening montage is a collection of cliched  memories to put us in context, with the dire warnings of global apocalypse, blurred videos, and grave anchors intoning.

Original images abound such as an ape shooting from a tank turret (Michael Dukakis could have taken a lesson) and an ape charging on a horse with machine guns in both hands.

Koba again inadvertently reveals the humanity and the weakness in the war:  “Caesar loves humans more than apes!”--those accursed affections, creeping up behind us just when we thought we were tough. That’s what’s really dawning and re-birthing: humanity. Dawn of The Planet of the Apes is a satisfying summer treat with images to remember and insights to clarify about the challenging dictates of co-existence.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at