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140713planetapesposterThe original, 1968 “Planet of the Apes” is a Hollywood classic, praised for its creative premise, an iconic performance from Charlton Heston, ahead-of-its time special effects and one of the greatest shock endings in moviemaking history.

And while the sequel-prequel in theaters now, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” isn’t quite destined to be a “classic,” it does at least do the original justice by endeavoring to offer a thoughtful, meaningful, science fiction story, and not just a summer spectacle.

Not that it isn’t spectacular. Au contraire. “Dawn” is a stunning visual voyage that dazzles in 3-D and brings cutting-edge special effects to the “apes” that inhabit the redwood forest of post-apocalyptic California. Just as the original film made the apes seem so lifelike (for 1968), the apes in “Dawn” seem real, the line between computer animation and live photography now completely indistinguishable.

The tale picks up 10 years after the 2011 film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” untold years before the 1968 storyline. A virus has wiped out nearly all human life on earth, but the apes that were chemically enhanced and escaped from science labs in “Rise” now rule the forests around San Francisco under their human-like leader, Caesar.

And this is a movie all about Caesar. The man inside the fur, actor Andy Serkis, does a brilliant job bringing the pained, angry, but still noble ape leader to life, as Caesar endeavors to keep his bloodthirsty general, Koba, from launching a war against the few, surviving humans. Giving audiences a glimpse of a compassionate, but strong leader, Caesar navigates a challenging world of foreign relations and internal power struggles, of a fragile society barely hanging together and a family in the same predicament. It’s truly a memorable character and memorable performance.

Unfortunately, the human characters in the film are flat and dull, my only significant criticism of the film and the one factor that holds this movie back from being a masterpiece. Half the characters in this film are fantastic; the other side … a bit undeveloped.

This leaves the apes to carry the bulk of the story and communicate the primary message. The lessons they teach, fittingly, are as simple as the language they speak.

“Apes not kill apes,” is the first of the ape commandments, a rule Caesar must obey, no matter how difficult, in order to lead by example.

Caesar also preaches and illustrates the key virtues, “Home, family, future,” while living in stark opposition to the vices of hate, bigotry and war.

The moral message really isn’t much more complicated than that, though Caesar illustrates that living by the simplest of principles can often be the most difficult, and sometimes even the best path leads to unwanted circumstances. Sometimes, war is inevitable, for sometimes, evil won’t allow peace to bloom.

Surprisingly, the film doesn’t push the usual, leftist worldview: Humans aren’t inherently evil or a plight on the Earth; despite talking about “hate” in the vicinity of San Francisco, there’s no homosexual overtones … no, it’s just a good, old-fashioned science fiction film with anything but old-fashioned special effects.

In the end, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an outstanding movie with solid, if simple, moral messages, held together by a fantastic performance and amazing visual effects. Though a bit violent for some, even frightening for others, many science fiction fans and summer movie audiences should consider it a must-see movie.

Content advisory:

  • “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 20 profanities and obscenities.
  • The sum total of the film’s sexuality is a kiss.
  • There is, however, a significant amount of violence, including hunting scenes, animal battles, gunplay, hand-to-hand combat, rioting and outright war scenes between human and ape. Characters both significant and insignificant fight and are killed. There is some bloodshed, wounds and gore.
  • There is no significant religious or occult content.

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