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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes – film review

July 17, 2014


That rarest of things – a VFX milestone with heart, vision and a soul.

Reviewed on Friday 11th July 2014

dawn of the apes - caesar

Directed by Matt Reeves. Written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver & Mark Bomback, based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, premise suggested     by the novel ‘La Planète des Singes’ (The Planet Of The Apes) by Pierre Boulle. Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell,     Judy Greer and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Running time: 130 mins.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is the follow-up to the surprise hit of 2011 – Rise     Of The Planet Of The Apes – itself a prequel-cum-reboot of the popular sci-fi series begun in 1968, which led to five movies and two TV series in the 1970s. Dawn unfolds ten years after the events of the previous installment – where the human population of the world has been essentially decimated by the simian flu pandemic.     A pocket of human survivors based in a gone-to-seed San Francisco are facing the prospect of societal collapse once their fuel supply runs dry in a matter of weeks – while the apes, who have established their own village in the redwoods outside of Frisco (under the leadership of Caesar), have had virtually no contact with humans     for two years, believing them to have died out completely. The apes’ idyllic existence is soon threatened however when surprise contact is made and the humans demand to be given access to a hydro-electric dam (located in the heart of the apes’ territory) which they desperately need to reactivate in order to survive. An uneasy agreement of cooperation between the two camps is quickly established – however, a tragic chain of events and misunderstandings soon leads to the possibility of armed conflict and all-out inter-species war.

Helmer Matt Reeves maintains consistency of tone set by Rupert Wyatt in the first film, although there has been some criticism levelled at Dawn – that it is way too ape-centric – that we see more of the apes and get to know them better – moreso than the human characters. But, as it turns out, this was entirely deliberate on the part of the film’s director; as it is really the ape characters he is primarily concerned with here. And interestingly (and much like George Romero’s original Dead Trilogy), there are no continuing human characters from the previous film, with the primary ape characters: Ceasar, Koba, Rocket and Maurice being the only ones making a return from the initial installment. And hopefully it’s an approach which will continue with possible future entries (personally, I’m hoping the lost space mission briefly touched upon in Rise will be the focus of the next movie – effectively making it a direct remake of the 1968 original).

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul; which has always been an issue     with CG characters having that creepy ‘dead-eyed’ look; contributing to the uncanny valley (most notably in Robert Zemeckis’ first forays into CG animation). But here it is clearly apparent this is no longer an issue. One can look into the eyes of these ape characters and sense a soul behind those eyes – an astounding achievement which cannot be understated. In fact, the CG graphics and performance capture are so seamlessly integrated that we are tricked into believing we are no longer watching visual effects – but real living, breathing, and, most importantly – FEELING performers right there in front of the camera. This is a milestone not only in performance capture – but a milestone in visual effects – period.

Of the principal apes, Koba and Maurice are just as fully-rounded characters as Caesar. Koba (a Bonobo) is almost pathologically distrustful of humans; due to       the terrible pain and suffering he underwent in the animal testing lab in Rise. Maurice the Orangutan, on the other hand (being a former circus performer) is more forgiving; having experienced positive, as well as negative aspects of human beings. Toby Kebbell as Koba, by the way, gives just as astonishing a performance as Serkis does as Caesar. The scene where Koba suddenly snaps into stereotypical ‘dumb animal performing monkey routine’ when he is caught snooping around the human colony     is a brilliantly conceived and executed moment which speaks volumes about how cultural stereotypes are perceived and accepted by people mistrustful of those cultures.

With regard to the movie’s themes, it would be fair to say there is a definite Shakespearean vibe going on here. The apes’ cardinal rule and fundamental mantra “Ape not kill ape.” is really the moral lynchpin of this particular story – posing a major moral dilema for Caesar. Caeser must learn what it means to be a leader – that sometimes unavoidable issues arise where rules cannot be helped but be broken.     The unfolding drama is compelling in that we desperately want the humans and apes to overcome their distrust of one another and co-exist peacefully. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say human nature is mirrored in the apes – as lack of empathy for ‘the other’ creates an environment for distrust to thrive and misunderstandings to develop; leading to the possibility of conflict and ultimately violence, bloodshed and war.

Unlike some other big summer action blockbusters this year; which have purported     to have incorporated thinly-disguised commentary on important issues (Godzilla, Captain America 2) – but haven’t really, Dawn is a film which can truly claim to be saying something of social value. This is not to say the film is at all heavy-handed     or preachy – not at all. Its themes are carefully woven into the fabric of the narrative; so as to reveal themselves effortlessly within character and story.

There is a consistency of vision and integrity to this reboot series which has never really been seen in many other franchises. And there is clearly a long-term vision     at play here – so if you are planning to see this film, but haven’t seen the previous installment, then I strongly suggest you do before seeing this one. I hadn’t revisited Rise until the night before seeing Dawn and it really does put everything in context. On a nerdy note, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes ends up on countless sci-fi geeks’ alltime greatest movie sequels lists; along with The Wrath Of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back and Aliens, it is seriously that good.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, July 11th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

  1. So you liked it? 😉


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