The Bock’s Office: Newest ‘Apes’ is the dawn of something great | CraigDailyPress.com

The Bock’s Office: Newest ‘Apes’ is the dawn of something great

Human Malcolm (Jason Clarke) has a tense meeting with primate leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." The movie is a sequel to the 2011 reboot of the 1960s and '70s series about highly intelligent apes.

When "Thus Spake Zarathustra" began booming in the introduction for "2001: A Space Odyssey," the hairy creatures involved were just starting to evolve at an extraordinary rate. The music of Richard Strauss may not be used in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," but the animals of its story are already well past the point of no return in no development, whether you believe that to be a good thing or a bad thing.

With the outbreak of a simian-derived virus overwhelming the populace of Earth in the near future, human civilization has dwindled a great deal in the past 10 years. The same is not true of their furry cousins, however, with a colony of intelligent apes in the forests of northern California thriving under the leadership of advanced chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis).

The peace the apes have enjoyed away from mankind's influence is threatened when a group of survivors approach them with a request to use a hydroelectric dam near the apes' home, which will hopefully allow them to regain power in what's left of San Francisco and maybe even seek out more humans.

There is little trust on either side, but Caesar and the group's spokesman, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), manage to form a truce that will allow the humans to get what they need and leave just as quickly.

Nevertheless, neither humans nor apes are fully committed to this collaboration, and some bigger plans are likely to create an even direr world for both species.

All the motion-capture performances Serkis has done in his career have been leading him to this movie, with his past amazing work as Caesar only more so here. The chimp who started a revolution now bears the weight of all ape-kind on his stooped shoulders, retaining a quiet dignity of someone who's seen the best of humans, having lived among them as an equal, mixed with the ferocity of someone who's observed these fleshy folks at their cruelest.

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Toby Kebbell makes an equally masterful showing as Caesar's most trusted comrade, Koba, whose hatred for men comes from physical and emotional scars endured in a research lab, meaning he doesn't trust humans any farther than he can throw them.

Which, by the way, is a decent distance when he's really motivated.

On the other side of it is Clarke as peace-minded Malcolm, merely wanting to keep his family (Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee) from experiencing any further apocalyptic lifestyle, while trying in vain to convince his fear-minded partner (Gary Oldman) that handling the situation with force is only going to end disastrously.

Nobody says as much, but the two extremes are "The only good ape/human is a dead ape/human!" and the social parallels within each group show that true harmony was never an option.

You already have a good idea of how the humans are handling their damaged way of life, and yes, there's a little humiliation involved in being forced to prostrate yourself before a beast you'd have thrown peanuts at in a circus tent only a decade earlier. It's not too tough to outsmart someone who's so convinced of their own superiority, they'll hand you their machine gun as a joke.

Still, watching the chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas continue to build their community is astonishing, as they establish a new hierarchy with laws, take on equestrian activities and form a more developed language that consists of signing, coded grunts and the occasional spoken words for those who have begun to master speech.

And, with the best vocabulary around, you'd think Caesar would talk down to his primate people, but he clearly wants to be better than the typical Alpha Male. That's not to say there isn't corruption, with traces of works like "Animal Farm" apparent to people who know the name Koba was an alias of Joseph Stalin.

This component, blended with the visual effects, makes everything so convincing it's not hard to imagine this really happening sometime soon.

Yikes.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" may be the best film of the summer, managing to be entertaining, thought-provoking and a little scary all at once, improving upon what was already great, making it even better and hinting that there's still more to come.

It may have been excessive sequels that killed the original franchise, but for now, two opposable thumbs up.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.

If you go

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” rated PG-13

Rating: 4 out of 4 stars

Running time: 131 minutes

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Toby Kebbell.

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.