Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sequel that improves on its predecessor and succeeds as a good science fiction movie while maintaining enough human drama to remain grounded. The ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise was rebooted in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes directed by Rupert Wyatt. The film followed Caesar, motion-captured by Andy Serkis, a genetically evolved ape and his human owner Will Rodman played by James Franco and detailed Caesar’s upbringing and subsequent escape, along with fellow apes, from human captivity. The film performed well commercially and critically which has led to this sequel and a third film being planned for July 2016.
The movie picks up 10 years after the events of the first film in which a virus has wiped out much of human civilization. Caesar’s community of apes is threatened when it re-encounters a group of human survivors led by Malcolm played by Jason Clarke and Dreyfus portrayed by Gary Oldman. The humans need power from the dilapidated hydroelectric dam which is near ape territory in order to restore power to the city. This conflict drives most of the movie and the desperation from the human survivors is well-developed, allowing us to glimpse how much damage this virus has done to humanity. Nevertheless, the virus is very much a framing device for the movie, with an opening montage describing how the virus developed and wiped out much of the human population. This perhaps, could have done with more attention from the filmmakers because it would have given audiences more sympathy towards the human survivors, but director Matt Reeves chose to focus more closely on the apes than the human story at play.
Indeed, the tension between the survivors and the apes is a strong element and certainly one of the movie’s highlights. You never quite feel that either group is safe while the other still exists, so when the action and consequences inevitably escalate later on in the movie, it feels authentic and understandable. The action scenes itself are pretty spectacular with the apes at times resembling a force of nature and at others showing they are just as smart as the humans are. It is this dynamic that really shows what this franchise is capable of, especially when it questions the humanity of the survivors and the morality of both sides of the conflict.
The motion-capture technology that is at the heart of this movie has improved even more since 2011, with Andy Serkis standing out particularly with a layered and complex performance as Caesar. His character is the most interesting, and the one the audience connects with the most, whether its his relationship with his son, his role as leader, his memories of humanity or his inner struggle to belong, Caesar is great fun to watch on-screen, and ironically can be the most human presence on-screen at times. Credit must also be given to Toby Kebbell, who plays Koba, Caesar’s rival who despises the human survivors and believes they should be dealt with ruthlessly. He’s a great villain, as malicious as he is fearsome. The apes themselves are certainly a formidable force when all seen together on-screen, with director Matt Reeves capturing their intimidating and fearsome side well.
Despite the impressive action sequences and amazing visual technology on-screen, it is the smaller, intimate character moments that are the most entertaining. There are nice call backs to Rise of the Planet of the Apes with James Franco’s character not completely forgotten. Caesar’s quiet moments of contemplation are just as fun to watch as the dazzling battle at the film’s climax as is Dreyfus’s heartbreaking reflection on his lost family. Certainly, I feel the film could have done with more of these moments, particularly from the human survivors. While Jason Clarke’s Malcolm and Keri Russell’s Ellie are given ample material to move the human story along but aren’t fleshed out enough to make any real impact. Its only later on in the film that their roles become important to the apes continued existence.
Overall, I would recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as an entertaining sci-fi film with enough action and some nice dramatic moments too. Fans of the last film will find plenty to enjoy here as will newcomers who shouldn’t feel too lost as to the events unfolding on-screen. Ultimately, the film is at its most successful during the quieter and more character driven moments, the quantity of which could have been increased even more. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes contains an entertaining story and a few fantastic motion-capture performances making it a film worth seeing.
Have you seen the movie? Let me know whether you liked it in the comments at the bottom of the page.