Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a sensitivity to it, which elevates it above your standard summer blockbuster fare. It is surprising for a film with such a budget behind it, that the opening movements of the film and a sizeable chunk of its entire running time, is spent watching computer generated images communicate to one another through sign language. It is a film many will say starts slowly, however I could have easily watched an entire film of the apes just living in this community and home that they have established for themselves. This is a testament both to the work done on a technical level by the effects team, but also the work done on an emotional level by the performers who make these groundbreaking special effects mean something.
This is a film, which is relatively calm and quiet for the majority of its running time, slowly developing its world and the characters that populate it. The scope is much wider and the stakes much higher than its predecessor, however whilst bigger it does not in any way feel bombastic and overblown like the majority of summer blockbusters. This is a movie that builds up to its spectacle and even when that is delivered, despite some of its undeniable silliness, is more subdued than the action we’ve become accustomed to seeing on a cinema screen in the summer. The sensitivity that substantiates its stunning special effects means that when the action comes it is not inconsequential or incoherent. The film’s story is very much concerned with the costs of violence, and the impact of this film’s events on both the humans and the apes is felt.
Regarding the effects, it would be easy to not get as excited about them this time around. As with a lot of things in films, we’ve become desensitized to some truly wonderful effects work. However when you really look at it, the realism and detail of these apes is nothing short of astounding. The furs look so real and their bodies so lived-in. The level of emotion that is able to shine through thanks to the actors inhabiting those motion capture suits is also nothing short of stunning.
Andy Serkis once again delivers a fantastic performance however; it is Toby Kebbell, playing Koba, who deserves the plaudits this time around. Koba is THE film villain of 2014. His dastardly deeds make him the perfect antagonist to Caesar and a wonderful adversary. The struggle between Caesar and Koba in this film does the Professor X/Magneto struggle better than X-Men: Days of Future Past. Scenes of these two squaring up to each other and fighting have more weight behind them than most scenes of human on human violence I’ve seen in film. Meanwhile on the human front is where this film is at its weakest. An attempt is made with the Jason Clarke character to establish a relationship with Caesar that will echo his friendship with James Franco in ‘Rise’ However this cannot help but pale in comparison to that. Whilst Gary Oldman has one emotional scene that he knocks out of the park, but little to do for the rest of the film. The Planet of the Apes films used to be humans realizing how much like animals they still are, ‘Dawn’ completes the reversal of the roles, with this very much being an ape-centric film, where they realize just how like humans they are. It is one of many very interesting parallels, and ideas, within this thoughtful film.
However as mentioned the human element does falter, and late in the film there are some rushed and silly moments that may bother some. With one line in particular about soldiers in the north derailing the whole third act for the person I saw the film with. Whilst the widening of the scope does mean this film loses some of the focus and tightness that made ‘Rise’ work so well. With this film having very much a set-up ending, which makes it much less satisfying on its own. With my fear being that an attempt to make a trilogy out of this will result in one film too many.
Therefore while not without its faults, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sensitive, interesting, and brilliantly made summer blockbuster.