The Movie Man has visited before how rare it is when a sequel equals and (rarely) even surpasses the original.
While it doesn’t happen often, sometimes a second movie is mighty good. This is one of those times.
ABOUT THE FILM
This recent “Planet of the Apes” reboot, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” follows a 2012 film that followed what many consider a disastrous “revisiting” of the 1968 original by quirky director Tim Burton back in 2001.
The Movie Man liked Burton’s picture – an 8. Burton’s version addressed the campiness the original series descended into while making the new one laugh-out-loud funny sometimes – especially Paul Giamatti’s character, Limbo. (Watch it again and you’ll see you’ll like it more.)
The first movie series was based on a 1963 short novel by Pierre Boulle, and it contains one of the great concluding twists in literature. It’s short – go read it (and don’t cheat.)
When the first movie arrived, it, too, boasted a trick ending that stunned (in a different way from the book); it was penned by “Twilight Zone’s” Rod Serling. With Charlton Heston delivering two now-iconic lines – “Take your stinking paws of me, you damned dirty ape!” and “You maniacs! You blew it up!…” (there’s more, but it’s not suitable for a newspaper; the movie was rated G but would be a PG today with all that cussin’) – and Dr. Zaius became part of “Simpsons” history when a musical substituted his name in Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus,” that first one’s an undeniable classic.
That 1968 movie was a huge hit. Then came the sequels; none matched up to that classic original, but all have their moments. Four movies followed quickly: “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970); “Escape From the Planet of the Apes: (1971 and generally considered the best of the additional movies); “Conquest …” (1972); and “Battle for …” (1973).
In those old school, pre-computer generation days, men in masks played monkeys, but they did it well. The 1968 original won an honorary Oscar for “make-up achievement.”
“Beneath …”, the first sequel, is certainly inferior. Unlike this week’s “Dawn …”, “Beneath …” could not match its predecessor. It’s tough to return to the platinum level – as last year’s “Star Trek: Into Darkness” (a 7) discovered. It was good, but the first one was better.
That’s usually the case. Some exceptions where the sequel out-shone the original were “Godfather II” (1974); “Superman II” (1980); “Evil Dead II” (1987, which also had the creepiest poster ever); and “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990, and very funny).
Now, with the success – critically and publicly – of “Dawn” the scene is set for the final piece of the trilogy. Mark your calendars now. The still untitled third one arrives July 29, 2016.
THE PLOT (SPOILERS)
Cesar (Andy Serkis, motion-captured) has his freed ape kingdom prospering in the woods near San Francisco where they are learning to read and write. Meanwhile, “simian flu” has wiped out most of humanity. A few hundred, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), are holed up in the city’s rubble.
They need a new power source. After the few years since the human race was decimated, all available generator fuels are gone. The power answer is to gear up a dormant dam – located in the midst of ape country. Oldman sends out a work crew, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell).
Their first encounter with the apes goes poorly. But Clarke convinces Cesar to give them another chance while Oldman wants to eradicate the beasts. However, there’s trouble in the ape world; Koba (Toby Kebbell), who has suffered at the hands of humans, wants a war. And he’s turning Cesar’s sons against him.
The power comes on and things look peachy for the two races. But an assassination alters the atmosphere. The war is on as thousands of now-armed apes maraud through the city and attack the humans’ stronghold.
Clarke tries to keep Oldman at bay while a major monkey confrontation takes place high above in an incomplete skyscraper.
WHAT WORKS (SPOILERS)
The Movie Man is starting to sound like a broken record, but this is the best computer generation in history. Not for one second are the apes not believable. It’s astonishing. And so are the fake horses and cityscapes. (The Movie Man didn’t see “Dawn” in 3-D, but it looked like it would be worth it.)
Many sequences manage to elicit emotions that, going in, you’d think would be impossible. Cesar’s family unit is much stronger than any human family depicted.
Several scenes are strong: teacher ape Maurice receiving a book from Clarke’s troubled son after the ape protected them; Cesar crushed at hearing one of his sons has been killed and by whom; a bear attack; the sudden anger that Cesar employs when needed; the apes’ full-bore attack on the human hideout (even filmed in some super-slo motion, straight out of a true action movie).
BEST SCENE (SPOILER)
Koba returns to the human armory where he purposely acts goofy, like Cheetah in a “Tarzan” movie, to humor a couple of armed guys, to put them at ease. Then Koba casually picks up a gun and his visage changes to malevolence. He never flinches to kill the two humans.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
The human actors pale beside the simians. All they seem to do is get misty-eyed while fawning over the apes. It’s a Hollywood/PETA dream come true. The environmental/can’t-we-all-just-get-along message isn’t subtle.
Clarke is a weak lead, and Oldman doesn’t waste much time going over the top the other direction.
There’s nary a cussword until Oldman unleashes an f-bomb late. There’s some gore and plenty of violence when the war begins. “Dawn” is a mid-range PG-13.
This movie is better than the first one, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (a 7). It’s very well-made – after a brief preface, the movie opens and closes with the same shot, a super close-up – and the sequel is locked and loaded with the ending.
The biggest tribute is that, in a packed auditorium, no one chuckled once – and this is a movie about apes.
This is the second down week in the summertime. “Sex Tape” looks dumb and “The Purge: Anarchy” isn’t too enticing. Maybe the Movie Man will head to the unique “Boyhood.”