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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best and brainiest blockbuster of the summer, the kind of movie you hope for when you pay your money and buy your popcorn.

In title and spirit, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes evokes the “Dawn of Man” opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, an obvious influence on director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In). In the Kubrick movie, as in this one, the introduction of calculating thought and destructive weaponry bring drastic change to peaceful simian lives — and by extension human ones, too.

This is a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), which itself was the prequel to a sci-fi franchise that began in 1968. Rise was one of the more pleasant cinema surprises of recent years, showing how some fresh thinking could revive an old idea.

Dawn builds on this, picking up the story about a decade after mankind has been devastated by a simian flu unleashed at the same time as chemically engineered smart apes have revolted against their human oppressors.

The star of the show, as before, is Andy Serkis as lead ape Caesar. Caesar is the most intellectually and emotionally evolved of the apes, having grown not just as a rebel and leader but now also as a father and family figure.

Along with acquiring the power of speech, he’s also developed empathy. He can understand the need of the surviving band of humans to restore some order to desperate lives by reactivating a hydro power plant located in ape territory in the forests outside a ruined San Francisco.

Caesar just wants peace between humans and apes.But there are violent forces of dissent in both camps: not just the expected unease between apes and humans but also distrust and betrayal within the ape and human realms.  Neither human nor ape intelligence matters when the insanity of war erupts.

Without driving the point home, the movie makes plain the soul-destroying problem to trying to find a lasting peace between disparate tribes when many participants seem to prefer constant battle. Analogies with current conflicts readily come to mind in the intelligent screenplay.

Yet the thoughtfulness isn’t at the expense of action, which the movie delivers with impressive power.

Most movie franchises leave us hoping for less rather than more. The continuing Planet of the Apes series is having the entirely opposite effect.
- Peter Howell, Toronto Star

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