Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa
Stars: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke
Having discussed the film recently in our podcast, I thought I’d do a more extensive retro review of the 2014, blockbuster release, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from director Matt Reeves.
The film picks up ten years on from the events seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and following the pandemic of the ALZ-113 virus, it would be fair to say that things haven’t went well for humanity. Their numbers are greatly reduced and they’re separated into various small colonies with commodities and power proving to be scarce. Their last stand, if you will, plucky resistance and refusal to be wiped out by the Simian flu is all that is stopping the apes from taking over completely.
Indeed, as the name suggests, much of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes focuses primarily on Caesar and his leadership. Both him and his group of increasingly intelligent primates have built an extensive settlement, carved out a self sufficient existence in the woodland not far from San Francisco. They have a basic education system in place and a wonderfully intelligent verbal and sign language mix communication.
All is well, but it’s not long before their peaceful existence is disturbed when a small group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clark) run into two scouting apes. Things go awry to say the least when Carver (Kirk Acevedo) develops an itchy trigger finger and shoots one in panic, invoking the wrath of the entire colony down upon them. Caesar (Andy Serkis) being a stern, but highly intelligent and ultimately compassionate leader warns them off sending a few apes to follow.
Trouble is, the scouting team where heading into the hills to inspect and try to kickstart a hydroelectric plant back into life. With their limited power supplies only a week from running out, this is their only chance of potentially restoring full power to the city, preserving their way of life and opening up communications with any distant survivors. Which explains the frankly moronic decision by Malcom to return with his family and a few others to try and reason with Caesar. After informing Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) of the incident, amidst much panic and agitation, and also getting a visit from the Apes shortly afterwards in an impressive show of strength to ram home the stay clear message, they come to the conclusion that they must try and convince the charismatic Caesar into allowing them access to the dam anyway.
That’s really the superficial premise of the story. It focuses on the initially uneasy relationship between Caesar and the the small party of humans led by Malcolm. With their admiration, friendship and common purposes both growing and becoming apparent as the story progresses. Whilst alternatively showing the other side and ideology of the formers rival Koba (Toby Kebbell), his deeply set hatred of humans, what he believes is weakness from his leader and desire for conquest. On the human side of this ideological divide is Dreyfus. He’s not quite as blinkered by sheer hatred as the tortured Koba, but puts out a call to arms nonetheless with self preservation and an untrusting attitude towards the Apes ever present if slightly hidden to begin with.
In terms of acting in this film. There’s a quite a few very good showings in a strong ensemble performance and one truly great performance. Andy Serkis is utterly incredible as the conflicted, charismatic Caesar. He displays a range of emotions throughout, from beautiful tender moments and sadness to flashes of anger and frustration. He acts with his eyes, his body and the few words he properly speaks are powerful. This man is the mo cap master and a genuine great of our times in that regard. Jason Clark has the meatiest role out of the human characters and is generally very good. I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s relatively short time on the screen, whilst the brilliant Toby Kebbell was excellent as the villainous Koba. An honourable mention must be given to Kodi Smit-McPhee’s portrayal as Malcolm’s son Alexander too.
The visuals were phenomenal from the opening shot onwards. Little details like the Apes coats matting in the rain were captured beautifully. I actually forgot that I was looking at CG characters after a while such was the quality of the visuals and the soul and emotion the actors imbued each of them with. Disputes being beautiful, they thankfully never defined the film. Whilst Michael Giacchino’s score is great for the most part too.
I particularly liked the way this film had slow paced, deathly silent, tender moments before bursting into explosive action. The final forty five minutes pretty much transformed into a pure action film when Koba wrestled control of the colony after shooting Caesar, framing the humans for it and waging war upon them.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a pretty clear political allegory with connotations to the recent conflicts in Libya and Iraq springing to mind. It’s also about conflict both within Caesar himself and more generally between Ape and Human with two distinct ideologies fighting for superiority. Thankfully Caesar is more pure of heart than his real life counterparts and chooses to remain faithful to his beliefs when faced with inner conflict and the realities of life after rebellion, even if it does mean contradicting his mantra of Ape not killing ape to escape turning into the very thing their human captors were.
Ultimately, I loved this film. It had everything really, including an intelligent story to compliment the visuals and action. I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anybody that hasn’t had the chance to see it. You won’t be disappointed.