Latest 'Planet of the Apes' boasts strong characters, swingin' action

The Fresno BeeJuly 10, 2014 

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. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Advertising for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" suggests it is another summer film where an abundance of action scenes obliterates any serious story or character development.

First impressions can be deceiving.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" -- the updated tale of how apes surpass man as the dominant species -- has plenty of big battle sequences. But it also gives equal time to personal issues like respect, loyalty and family. The combination makes "Dawn" a solid pick.

"Dawn" takes place 10 years after events of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." While the apes have been hiding in the wooded areas near San Francisco, an epidemic has wiped out all but small pockets of humans. One such pocket exists on the streets of San Francisco.

The humans are running low on resources, and their only hope is to revive a power source at a nearby dam. But to get to the structure, they have to deal with the apes.

Director Matt Reeves ("Let Me In") gives "Dawn" a very human touch, both through the emotional complexities of the humans and the social structure of the apes.

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The humans are a mix of the cautiously hopeful main ape contact, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the deeply determined caregiver, Ellie (Keri Russell), and the emotionally broken leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). They represent the best and worst that mankind still has to offer.

Their counterparts are good-hearted leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), inquisitive scholar Maurice (Karin Konoval) and ambitious adviser Koba (Toby Kebbell). They show that while the apes strive to rise above the foibles that make mankind so flawed, they are developing into a society with equally as many problems.

Reeves blends these well-developed characters with some extremely impressive battle sequences, especially the showdown for control of the city. The computer-generated apes are nearly flawless, especially in how much emotion they show. It's a light year beyond the ground-breaking makeup used in the original "Planet of the Apes" film series.

The only technical blemish in "Dawn" is a lackluster 3-D element that looks flat. Bad 3-D has become a recurring theme in movies.

When Reeves cranks up the action, "Dawn" packs a pretty powerful punch. But it's all of the attention to character that elevates "Dawn" above the typical summer fodder.

Movie review

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," rated PG-13 for language, violence. Stars Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Karin Konoval. Directed by Matt Reeves. Running time: 130 minutes. Grade: B+

Theaters and times

Ape-ology

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the latest big-screen version of the tale of man vs. apes based on the 1963 French novel "La Planète des singes" by Pierre Boulle. Since the first film in 1968, there have been several film and TV offerings based on the "Apes" tale.

"Planet of the Apes" (1968): Charlton Heston stars in this first look at a world ruled by "dirty" apes.

"Beneath the Planet of the Apes" (1970): Crew of second spaceship finds mutants living underground. James Franciscus stars.

"Escape from the Planet of the Apes" (1971): Three apes -- Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter), and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) -- travel back to 1973. The ape evolution begins.

"Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" (1972): Apes being used as slaves in the early '90s stage a revolt. McDowall stars.

"Battle for the Planet of the Apes" (1973): The tale of Caesar's (McDowall) efforts to cultivate peace between the apes and surviving humans is told in flashback from the year 2670.

"Planet of the Apes" (1974): Only 14 episodes of this CBS series based on the first film air. Ron Harper and McDowall star.

"Return to the Planet of the Apes" (1975): The 13 animated episodes show the apes living in a modern society.

"Planet of the Apes" (2001): Tim Burton directs this remake that pits Mark Wahlberg against the apes.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011): First offering in the series reboot shows how the apes begin to evolve into what will become the ruling species. James Franco stars.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" (2014): Showdown between apes and humans is the beginning of the war that will change the planet. Keri Russell stars.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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