Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Allan Brown2
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review
Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Running Time: 130 mins
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is director Matt Reeves sequel to Rupert Wyatt’s prequel, which was in-turn a reboot of a franchise born in the late sixties that went on to spawn more than 5 spin-offs as well as a television series. In other words, this has no right to be anything other than absolutely dreadful, right?
The film builds on the foundations laid out in Rupert Wyatt’s runaway hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and continues the legacy of chief chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his simian uprising. The world, now a very different place to what once was, lays empty and barren. Skyscrapers and streets lay in decay, overgrown and desolate whilst mother-nature tightens her grip in reclaiming the open spaces and urban jungles for herself. The virus or Simian Flu that has whipped out much of the human population has run its course, the few survivors that remain struggle to live without replenish-able resources, in a desolate and inhospitable landscape that offers little hope of a future.
The film itself is set ten years after Rise with Caesar (Andy Serkis) who has now successfully established an idyllic (yet primitive) forest community and home, in the 550 Acres of National Park known as the San Diego Redwood Forest. However, the peaceful community that Caesar has carefully shaped is threatened when a chance meeting between ape and man, kick starts a violent chain reaction that may compromise everything he and his tranquil forest community has achieved.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a summer blockbuster first and foremost; there is no getting away from that. It’s big in scope, bursting with huge scale action set pieces, heavily reliant on CGI, and follows a pretty simple and archaic narrative. However, what sets Dawn apart from other blockbusters, is its rich and emotionally complex characters, well most of them.
What sets Dawn of the Planet of the Apes apart from other blockbusters, is its rich and emotionally complex characters
Much like its predecessor, the key to Dawn’s success was always going to be the believability in the presentation of its primates, and as Caesar (a computer generated chimpanzee) is our main protagonist, it is imperative that we, the audience, believe in the character, seeing as he alone shoulders the responsibility in the success of the entire movie. No pressure then.
Thankfully, Weta once again has upped the stakes in what is possible with performance capture and digital technology. As with Rise, the apes are all played by actors in performance-capture suits (most notably Mr motion capture himself – Andy Serkis), were every movement is captured on computer. However, the digital technology is now so advanced that every last glimmer of emotion registers and radiates through to its digital counterpart, with breath-taking results.
Because of this, Matt Reeves has been able to present a depth of emotionality in these characters that has never been seen or indeed felt before on screen before. Emotions, gestures and movement feel so real and organic, you will swear you can almost see Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell through the performance. It’s on the strength of both Weta Digital and the courage of the actors fully embracing a relatively new process, that we full heartedly hand ourselves over to the story.
Performances from Serkis (Ceasar) and Kebbell (Koba) are simply spectacular and rich beyond the imagination; it’s just a shame much of their homosapien rivals are boiled down to weightless stereotypes spouting trite unimaginative dialogue. This is much the case with Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee who are all criminally underused and given very little screen time to develop in being anything other than background fodder. Jason Clarke who is our main human protagonist, acts as a plot device for much of the film. With that said, he is given enough of a character arc and worthy screen time to come away relatively unscathed.
Despite these shortfalls, the film does successfully manage to explore some interesting themes of diplomacy and leadership along the way, and even though it could be argued that the narrative itself is bland and unimaginative, barely moving from its starting point to its conclusion, the weight, intensity and emotional journey Caesar and his comrades evoke, more than make up for its few short comings.
Summary: Stunning visuals aside, this intelligent science fiction summer blockbuster will take you on a heart pounding journey full of journey, were its characters will captivate you from the very first frame. Hail Caesar!