Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Koba hangs out between takes.
Koba hangs out between takes.

Twitter Plot Summary: It’s been ten years since the simian flu wiped out most of humanity. A commune of survivors butt heads with Caesar’s ape community.

Five Point Summary:

1. As soon as you say you’ve not seen a human for a while, it’s obligatory for them to show up.
2. CGI apes look good. Almost too good.
3. The ape commune is a great piece of design.
4. Apes on horseback… with guns!
5. So what does Gary Oldman’s character have going for him, other than an old iPad?

Following on from the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where humanity was crippled by the spread of a simian flu virus, some 10 years have now passed and the apes have formed a primitive society in the forests near San Francisco. It’s been 2 years since the apes have seen any humans, but just as they start thinking they may all have been wiped out, a small group of humans show up and one of them happens to get a bit trigger happy when confronted with an ape. This sets off a sequence of events that you know will ultimately lead to a face-off between human and ape.

The plot is very well structured, the action escalating naturally and doesn’t get padded out any more than is needed, running for a not unpleasant 2 hours 10 minutes. It’s all designed to get us one step closer towards the original Planet of the Apes movie, and does so without sacrificing the tension or reducing the stakes for either side. Indeed, all signs point towards a bust-up of epic proportions in the next film, although Dawn is not light on well designed action sequences. Whilst there aren’t any scenes nearly as powerful as Caesar’s first words in Rise, the sight of apes carrying guns and riding horses is one that will stick in the mind.

The CGI effects too are simply fantastic. Matt Reeves’ decision to film the motion captured sequences on location rather than restricting them to a sound stage not only marks a step forward in technical innovation but also immerses the audience in the situation and easily permits us to suspend disbelief as the apes communicate via sign language and, as the story progresses, more and more verbal dialogue.

If there’s one area that could do with improvement is the characterisation of the surviving humans. Jason Clarke does plenty with the limited amount given to him as ape sympathiser Malcolm, and there is some competent support from Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Malcolm’s girlfriend and son respectively. Gary Oldman leads the human settlement but isn’t given nearly enough to do. Other than one brief scene where he laments the family he lost, his character is almost so two dimensional he’d disappear if he stood sideways on. There is also one further character who is given the role of “monkey hater” despite his reasoning for hating them so much not getting beyond “it was simian flu”. Never mind that humanity brought about its own extinction, blame it on the apes. Despite the best efforts of Malcolm and Caesar, draws parallels between humans and apes and reveals that, despite best intentions, there is ultimately very little that differs between both species.

"Hands up , gimme all your cash or the woman gets it!"
“Hands up , gimme all your cash or the woman gets it!”

But then, this is really about the burgeoning ape society and the power struggle between Caesar and Koba, the scarred and very angry ape who was imprisoned alongside Caesar in Rise. These two motion-captured performances from Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell are powerful and easily make you forget that they’re CGI-covered actors. For performance alone they deserve award plaudits, but you can almost guarantee that won’t happen.

In terms of gender equality on both sides, there is none – female characters are given short shrift in both the ape and human communities, with only Keri Russell’s medic having the odd moment where she isn’t stood around waiting to be given something moderately interesting to do. Despite all its many positives, this is still a reasonably sized sticking point. To an extent this can be forgiven how right it gets everything else, but one can only hope that some balance is provided in the next instalment. At least in a summer filled with blockbuster extravaganzas there is at least one that has a brain and isn’t afraid to tackle some heavy themes.

Score: 4/5

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