20th Century FOX has lifted the veil on "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" with a series of screenings this morning, and we were lucky enough to get a glimpse at twenty minutes of somewhat unfinished ape action.
The short review? If you were fan of the first movie, you're going to love what they're doing with the new movie. For the long version — and spoilers — read on:
Trailer Of The Apes
The footage started off with a new trailer for the movie, which laid out the whole story. Since the simian plague decimated the population of planet Earth in the first film, Apes have been living peacefully in their own society North of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Into this peace enters humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who wants to bridge the gap between the two races. Unfortunately, due to machinations by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the fragile peace breaks apart, and all out war engulfs San Fran.
The trailer conveyed both the character work and the epic scale of the action, nicely setting the stage for the footage to come.
Just Like A Serkis
Andy Serkis wasn't available to intro the footage in person, what with him table reading "Star Wars" and all, but he did film a brief video intro to the footage. Of note, Serkis plugged there were more motion capture actors this outing of the apes, and more shooting on practical locations than sound-stages.
Given they were green-screening in a frickin' forest, that set-up made the footage all the more impressive.
Emotions Over Actions
What followed were five or so short scenes from the film, with varying degrees of finished footage. The overall impression though was that FOX was confident showcasing the emotional journey of the characters, versus the big action scenes.
It's possible that's because those battles weren't finished yet, but the less cynical side of me says it was because the emotional arcs were so good.
In particular, we get to see a great balance of scenes with the apes, and humans; and how Caesar is brought to the brink of war by the actions of Malcolm and Dreyfus' group.
What About The Plot?
Here's what we could suss out, based on the footage shown: the apes are living peacefully in their habitat, until approached by Malcolm and his group. After initially being chased off — Carver (Kirk Acevedo) semi-accidentally shoots one of the apes, not the best opening to negotiations — the groups reconvene, and eventually the apes help fix the remaining human's water supply and other life-necessary functions in the human home.
Then things go wrong, and the apes prepare for war. They bring their entire force ("I thought you said there were only 80," Dreyfus hisses to Malcolm when the overwhelming, horse-riding ape army appears in SF), and threaten war if humans don't leave them alone.
That's where the footage left off, but based on the trailer? Humans don't leave them alone.
Ape City: That's Where I Want To Go
The Apes have a city! In the redwoods north of San Fran, they've built a whole civilization from sticks and leaves, and it's incredible. As much a fort as a home, the city doesn't look human, or animalistic — but instead a mix of both.
Apes Together Strong
Where only Caesar spoke in the first movie, all the apes now have varying degrees of speech, with Caesar having the best control of the English language. Sign language still plays a major part, with subtitles translating where necessary… But the speech is still that beautiful, guttural, ripped from the bottom of the throat speech Caesar displayed during the climax of "Rise Of The Planet of The Apes."
All Hail Caeser
As with "Rise," Serkis' soulful Caesar is the star of the show, with the Ape effects trumping those in the 2011 film. But he's not the only star: the angry Koba (Toby Kebbell) has a prominent role to play as Caesar's greatest ally, and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) is so life-like, it's scary.
Black Hole Son
A little fun shout-out for comic book fans, Malcolm and Ellie's (Keri Russell) son played by Kodi Smit-Mcphee has a scene bonding with Maurice over Charles Burns' seminal graphic novel "Black Hole." Smit-McPhee teaches Maurice how to read the book, while Malcolm and Ellie look proudly on, a moment that occurs well before the climactic battle.
Pure speculation, but based on the footage — and knowing this is the middle chapter in what FOX considers a trilogy leading up to the "Planet of the Apes," things do not look good for the humans in this equation. By the end, the apes are slathered in war paint, and ready to bring the pain.
We'll just have to wait until July 11 to see what happens.