Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
StarringAndy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kirk Acevedo, Enrique Murciano, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Set ten years after the outbreak of a deadly virus, we find ape leader Caesar and his group living peacefully outside San Francisco. A chance meeting with a group of human survivors leads to the two sides battling for survival.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise hit in 2011 and brought a breath of fresh air to a franchise that had stalled with numerous sequels and Tim Burton’s unfortunate remake. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes we are in a post “Simian-flu” world and the tone of the film is completely different to its predecessor. Caesar (expertly played by motion capture God Serkis), is the leader of a group of apes and is balancing his family responsibilities with leadership and all is going well until the humans return. Led by the likeable Jason Clarke, the humans and apes meet and tensions mount slowly until we reach the film’s epic finale.
It’s impossible to talk about this film without discussing the beauty of motion capture and the majestic grace that all of the apes bring to the screen. Caesar is a fully formed character and his every movement is perfect and it’s a testament to a film with so much CGI that after a few moments you become so engrossed in its characters that you forget that they are CGI creations. Shots that focus on Caesar’s eyes show more emotion and determination than some real life actors. If there was ever an argument for motion capture actors to be recognised by the Academy et al for their efforts it is this film. Every ape has a personality; my personal favourite is giant Orangutan Maurice who looks almost too real.
As the film progresses we see Caesar’s many emotions displayed and this goes alongside with Toby Kebbell’s Koba. Seen in the first film held in a cage and brutalised, here he is free but his prejudices are bubbling under the surface until they explode in a fiery edge of your seat finale. Kebbell brings so many levels to Koba and director Matt Reeves is careful to show both sides to this story. It makes sense why Koba hates humans and his distaste is clear on his face.
Compared to the in depth character construction of the apes, the human element of Dawn is almost an afterthought. Human hero Malcolm (Clarke) is likeable and his wife Ellie (Russell) is there to offer medical services and so on. But unlike Rise, there is no depth to the human characters and this does make it slightly difficult to invest in any of them. Gary Oldman gets little screen time, although one moment as he sits looking at a picture of his children is the only time a human character shows any emotional depth.
Although the human characters are unfortunate, it doesn’t stop Dawn being one of the best films of 2014 and it is because of the effort that has gone into creating the apes’ world. We see how they have evolved in their sign language and speech. How they have created their own home, and more importantly how Caesar recognises how close they are to humans in terms of their emotions. The effort that has been put into creating their world is a majestic site and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next installment.
And there will definitely be a next installment considering the bloodbath created in the final act of this film. Koba’s initial charge on the human camp is awe inspiring to watch and in one stand out piece of camera work, Koba mounts a tank and director Reeves attaches a camera to it, giving us a 360 view of the carnage. Reeves is careful to mix the new with the old and there is a homage to the original with the apes on horseback riding into battle. How they will develop the story further I’m not sure, but with the seeds of a missing shuttle planted in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I’m sure we’ll be catching up to a reworking of the 1968 original film in no time.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an impressive film and it demonstrates the beauty of CGI when it’s treated with love and by actors who understand the art form and embrace it fully. Its story is about betrayal and the battle between two different entities, but it delivers it with such gusto that it’s a hugely enjoyable film to watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★