Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell & Kodi Smit-McPhee
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Director: Matt Reeves
Viewed: Monday 21 August 2014 @ Event Cinemas Glendale, Newcastle.
The Planet of the Apes franchise has a long and checkered history. The original 1968 movie is a classic but, as is often the case, each subsequent sequel got worse and worse. The 2001 reboot/remake by Tim Burton is universally reviled (rightly so) and better off forgotten. Then 2011 brought us yet another reboot in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and we finally got the first film worth of carrying on the legacy started over four decades previously. Now the second reboot gets a sequel. Will it find itself associated with the more positive entries in the Apes series, or just another entry on the seemingly endless list of forgettable entries?
Ten years after the events of Rise, the “Alzheimer’s cure”, now know as the simian flu, that escaped the labs of Gen-Sys has wiped out most of the human population on Earth (some rather nifty opening credits depict this). Apes however, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis, King Kong), have prospered and made a home for themselves in the woods outside San Francisco (we get no clues as to how apes from anywhere else in the world are doing) where they have been developing their language skills, becoming more educated, raising families and becoming a tight-knit community. Meanwhile, a group of genetically immune, human survivors, including leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight), Malcolm (Jason Clark, Zero Dark Thirty), Ellie (Kerri Russell, Mission Impossible III) and Malcolm’s son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Let Me In) are holed up inside San Francisco but on the verge of running out of the fuel that feeds their power source, so they need to repair the local dam…which just happens to be located inside the Apes’ domain. Now the humans and apes must learn to trust each other to avoid a war, which could end in the extinction of either or both species.
I’ve read that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is being described as the Empire Strike’s Back of the franchise. This is simply not true. It’s a decent movie, certainly the best sequel the series has seen, but I don’t think it’s better than Rise in any way. First of all there’s the leading man. I’m all for Aussie’s making it big in Hollywood, but Shane Clark is no James Franco. In fact all the human characters are pretty dull and underdeveloped. Gary Oldman is always dependable but he only has a handful of scenes and does little more than, annoyingly, yell into a megaphone. As for Keri Russell, her character could have almost been completely cut without making much of an impact on the final film. I understand that the main draw of this movie is supposed to be seeing how the apes have progressed since everything that happened in Rise, be we still need interesting human characters we can relate to. They’re not present here. Instead we’re given cliché characters with a throwaway line or two about each of their past lives that is supposed to make us care about them. It doesn’t work.
Then there are the apes, who are thankfully given much more development as we spend much more time with them (all the important players are also given individual external markings that are handy when trying to distinguish who is who, like Caesar’s son Blue Eyes who gets some large scars across his chest in the opening scene, his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer, Carrie) who wears a headpiece and his right-hand-ape Koba (Toby Kebbell, RocknRolla) who you’ll remember from Rise as the one-eyed, menacing lab-chimp who first releases the virus). The 10 year jump works well in that we get to see them in a place where they have evolved enough to speak occasionally (they communicate amongst themselves mostly using sign language, at the beginning of the movie anyway. Their speech seems to improve considerably towards the end), build what is essentially an ape city and creating their own set of laws to live by in an attempt not to become too much like the humans who treated them (mostly), and each other so badly and ultimately created a virus that led to their own demise. This without them having yet completely evolved into the half man/half ape beings of the original movies. The film is at its most interesting when we are spending time with the apes without any human interference. The big problem with the apes is that the CGI is often so bad that they often look as bad as those half man/half ape beings from the 1960’s. That might be an over exaggeration but they’re certainly a step down from Rise. Perhaps because there are just so many of them now and so many CGI shots needed that the budget wasn’t sufficient. There is a scene where a baby chimp is climbing over a couple of the human actors and it is so terribly fake they may as well have just left the tennis ball on a stick that the actors were so obviously actually interacting with in the shot.
None of this means I didn’t enjoy the movie. I did. I just didn’t find it to be the cinematic masterpiece that some seem to be lauding it as. The story it tells is an interesting one and feels like a natural next step after Rise. There are a few LOL moments, a few genuinely tense moments and a few naaawww cute moments. It just has its flaws and is very uneven. A small example of this is during the climatic battle where the tension of hundreds of apes advancing on the human compound is quickly replaced with ridiculouslessness as we witness Koba on a galloping horse maniacally wielding two machine guns. It’s misplaced silliness in what is an otherwise mostly serious movie. Oh, and the 3D is utterly pointless (there is not a single instance where it is warranted. Save yourself the extra $ and stick to 2D). Still, I am looking forward to a few years time when we get Mid-Morning, or Brunch or High Noon of the Planet of the Apes. For all these reasons I give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3 ½ Rant and Rave points.
Be sure to head over and read my friend Doctor Ry’s review here.
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