Second Opinion – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014.

Directed by Matt Reeves.
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary and Karin Konoval.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poster

SYNOPSIS:
In the wake of a disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.

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The announcement of a reboot to the Planet of the Apes franchise was met with apathy due to the poor reception and utter failure of a movie that is Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, but 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a nice surprise. The movie was beautiful, slow and brilliantly written and acted with some of the most impressive visuals ever seen. Not only was it one of the best movies released that year, it was easily the best movie in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Its sequel had big shoes to fill and with a new man in the director’s chair, some questioned whether Matt Reeves could capture the excellence of its predecessor. Well, those shoes have been filled and those questions have been answered – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an amazing movie and easily one of the year’s best.

Opening with a brilliant credit sequence that shows how the human-race killing virus spread from the previous movie, Reeves quickly thrusts us into this new world where the surviving humans have their struggling society and the genetically-evolved apes have their peaceful village in the forest. The humans have a problem – they are running out of fuel and losing that would mean they cannot contact anyone else around the world to see if there are any other survivors. They need to reach a dam that will give them extra power, but it’s on ape soil. A chance meeting between the two groups leads to a chain reaction of events as they devolve into a Cold War scenario and a game of chicken. Who will strike first and who will start the war?

If there was one complaint to be made about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it would be how heavy-handed it was with its references to the franchise that had come before it. Lines and moments from the 1968 original were forced in just to be knowing nods to the audience and most of them jarred against the action on-screen. Like its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is very loving of the franchise but is much more convincing and subtle in its references and homages. The homes of the humans and the apes are inspired by designs of aura of the much-maligned Battle for the Planet of the Apes but yet they feel fresh and new. The music by Michael Giacchino is very familiar to the Jerry Goldsmith score of Planet of the Apes, but importantly is unique to this movie. It’s new while still feeling familiar. This balance by Reeves is spot-on and it means that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is focused on being its own entity rather than looking to the camera with a knowing wink.

The script and characterisation for the movie is amazing and its cast all do a stellar job. Jason Clarke and Keri Russell carry the majority of the human weight and their relationship with Clarke’s son adds a real-world element to this science-fiction landscape. It can get a bit hammy at times, but there is no denying that Clarke and Russell do well in their roles. Those who felt short changed by Bryan Cranton’s small part in Godzilla might be sad to hear that Gary Oldman’s role in the movie is not as big as Clarke or Russell’s, but he once again proves why he’s one of the best actors of his generation. He wants what is best for his people, but he is as foolish any leader is – thinking he is indestructible against any foe.

But really, the full credit and success of this movie should be given to Andy Serkis. The master of motion-capture, Serkis is doing more than just being on set to act as a human green screen for the visual department to remove later, this is Serkis acting – and he is acting his arse off. It’s a shame that he will most likely be snubbed by those with the award-giving powers as this is one of the most convincing, genuine and heart-felt performances of the year. Every single thing Serkis does reflects Caesar’s emotions and his ability to act through the visual effects is testament to how great of a performer he really is. Likewise Toby Kebbell (who replaces Christopher Gordon for this movie) is superb as the hateful but loyal Koba. His Starscream-like attitude and desire for revenge against the humans is one of the movie’s shining moments and his performance is spell-binding. He wants to be like Caesar, but his emotions get the better of him. There is a scene in the movie which shows how great his performance is and how captivating his character can be as he lures his human foes into a false sense of security before resorting back to his killer instinct. In a sea of summer blockbusters that haven’t really given us any solid antagonists, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Koba is a breath of fresh air.

It would be a crime not to comment on the visual effects as the team have somehow managed to step up and improve on the ground-breaking excellence of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Each ape is meticulously designed and beautifully crafted to give them unique characters. Even during frantic action sequences or large scenes with all of the apes, you can point out and name each one of the main players because the designs – and importantly the script – allow for each of them to grow and develop. But crucially the effects aren’t ruined by Reeves’ direction as he carefully frames and shoots his action sequences with fluidity so it doesn’t just become a blur of violence and fur.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredible movie. It’s beautifully paced, masterfully directed and features some of the best acting you will see this year. The effects are mind-blowing and the action is pulse-racing. To say it’s one of the year’s best movies is an understatement as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great example of how to produce a big-budget summer blockbuster and could rival Edge of Tomorrow for 2014’s sc-fi crown. Awesome.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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