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On the silver screen: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is the best movie this summer

It’s all about trust. That’s not a bad value to dramatize. Who would think that a multitude of apes could deliver such a noble message? Well, when handled by a score of super-talented film makers – message received.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” has got to be the best in its current franchise. Acted and directed with skill and unending craft, this movie brings a ridiculous story to believability. What a great adventure and what great lessons to be learned. Along with trust, we are served generous portions of loyalty, family, cooperation and, of course, love.

In the wake of a global sweeping virus that decimated most of humanity, a pack of survivors come across a population of apes quickly evolving toward human traits, i.e. speech and motor abilities. In the devastating ruins of San Francisco, this troop of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), work tirelessly to restore power to the city and begin the business of rebuilding humankind. The apes, mistrusting humans and their guns, want to destroy them and own the world in peace and harmony. Caesar (Andy Serkis), the appropriately named head ape, has a particular affinity toward human beings which was established in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Here’s where issues of trust and peaceful coexistence butt heads with the killer factions of apes and the humans who want an all-out war that will determine only one victor. They are not eager for compromise. They will never trust one another. The world can only belong to one species – humans or apes. War is inevitable, or is it?

Caesar has a past that includes favorable memories of his life with humans. This is his conflict – how to trust these desperate human survivors and help them rebuild their world. Where, then, does that leave the apes? Will humankind make the same mistakes – destroy the world again and the ape population along with it?

Although this is a sequel, one need not see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” to thoroughly enjoy this fantastic movie. I did not see it and never felt out of it. I do plan on renting it solely on the merits of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” It’s that good.

Serkis as Caesar is very good. Considering the realistic makeup, use of puppetry and the process of “motion capture,” he manages to give an unusual and amazingly subtle performance. In fact, all the lead apes are extraordinary, as is the makeup design. You will have no trouble distinguishing one ape from the other. Standouts are Toby Kebbell as Koba, Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes and Karin Konoval as Maurice. On the human side, Jason Clarke as human head honcho has a monopoly on compassion. I haven’t seen such a caring face since Schindler. I’d trust him with my dog – no questions asked. His face would be enough. Equally human, in all the right ways, is Kerri Russell as Ellie, a loving and nurturing soul. The bad humans are well played by Kirk Acevedo, the obligatory hothead, and Gary Oldman – is he ever good?

Matt Reeves directs with a sturdy vision. This is Reeves’ first major film as director. I am happy to report he will direct the next Planet of the Apes movie, as well.

An important element to the success of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the score. Composed by Michael Giacchino, the music does what a film score should do – compel and supply tension – manipulate the audience into understanding purely through emotion. The fringe benefit of a Giacchino soundtrack, as always, is its sheer beauty. There is also a strange beauty in the visuals. The ruins of the city, the forest and the interiors blend cohesively into a realistic setting. Special effects are phenomenal, especially the use of “motion capture” and seamless CGI.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” now moves to the top of my summer movies list as great entertainment with the added feature of great lessons to be learned. But don’t tell the kids that. You wouldn’t want to discourage them from enjoying this thrilling movie by saying, “It’s good for you.”

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is in theaters


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