DIR: Matt Reeves • WRI: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver • DOP: Michael Seresin • ED: William Hoy, Stan Salfas • DES: James Chinlund • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reflects the sub-textual social commentary of another Dawn, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). Both movies are genre pieces with a simple, yet visionary premise oozing with fantastic mythology. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wouldn’t be the enormous 2014 summer blockbuster of course, without the original spark that created the franchise in Pierre Boulle’s novel and the 1968 picture.
The primary Planet of the Apes film established the imagination and underlying social commentary, but was portrayed in a charming and playful manner. The latest installments Rise of the Planet of the Apes and now Dawn, surpass the original series in a far more visceral and intimate dimension.
Andy Serkis returns to play the protagonist chimpanzee Caesar. He astonished audiences in Rise with his humane and at times, threatening performance. He left viewers speechless with his “NOOOO!!!’ exclamation to Draco Malfoy. In Dawn, Serkis continues his dynamic skills and expands the character to that of…well a Caesar, leader of the apes and father of two. In one shot he can get the audience’s empathy level jacked, and with a quick change of facial expression or way of breathing he can evoke fear and intimidation. The special FX crew have out-done themselves again, but the CGI can not take full credit for his virtuoso performance.
Ten years have passed since the apes crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and developed their own society in the Muir Woods. They inhabit the rough terrain and weather, oddly reminiscent of McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971). When the human protagonist, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) makes his way up to the apes in his duster coat and hat, I thought Warren Beatty survived that blizzard.
It’s not planet of the apes yet, as the Simian Virus has not wiped out all mankind. However, this worldwide epidemic has left this band of survivors in desperate need of fuel and power. Inevitably these two bands of humans and apes cross paths and tensions rise. As these two camps pursue in diplomatic debate, we the audience are witness to themes of hierarchy, family, politics, war, peace and most overwhelming, fear.
Fear is what drives the plot, causing weak individuals to make rash decisions in order to protect themselves and their ideals. The apes’ side of this story is far more intriguing, and it’s hard not to be reminded of the Roman era or Greek tragedy when we look at their political activities. Caesar’s leadership and choices are scrutinized by the apes, who see him as a human sympathizer. There’s an assassination attempt on his life, which mirrors that of JFK, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. The weakness in the story is the bland and passionless human performances, and maybe that’s intentional as the film really focuses on the advancement of ape society. For instance, the superb performance by John Lithgow as a man in the depths of Alzheimers and the relationship between Will and Caesar in Rise conjured our emotions and forced us to care about them. In Dawn, Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus is tame and practically absent for most of the feature. A conversation between Malcolm’s son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Ellie (Kerri Russel) about her dead daughter possesses the emotional capacity of a doorstop. We find ourselves aching for the apes to obliterate them. The only decent human performance comes from Jason Clarke, who expresses desperation.
The subtext concentrates on diplomatic decisions and actions during times of tension or war, naturally not giving us any solution or insight, but basically claiming that on any side there will always be come bad seeds there to help create fear and paranoia. Christopher Nolan attempted a similar theme in his 2008 superhero genre The Dark Knight, where he focused on the nature of terrorist demands and how society reacts to them.
Rest assured, if you’re not part of some liberal hippy commune and just want a good old action flick, you are in luck because impending violence and bloodshed does erupt in spectacular fashion. This is mainly due to fluid camera movement with a few excellent tracking shots and tank POV similar to the dizzying camera twirl at Carrie’s prom, which also suggested a situation spinning out of control and an aura of impending doom. Location is a major factor of the movie and its action making the shots of the apes swinging from the Golden Gate seem instantaneously iconic.
Dawn doesn’t come without it flaws though. Near the end we see Malcolm take two steps away from a big C-4 explosion and somehow survive. Now I’m not a doctor, but I seriously think that his hair shouldn’t have looked right after that. And it’s not just the logistics of it that grinded my gears, it’s the fact that the filmmakers Frenched out of killing off the “good guy” in order to give the movie a sentimental ending. It would have been far more moving and interesting for Caesar if Malcolm had died a martyr rather than a rehash of the previous film’s conclusion. For Planet of the Apes enthusiasts it will lack the mythological intrigue and backstory plot of its predecessor, but realistically we couldn’t expect the same thing.
Despite this, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains one of the most enjoyable experiences you will have at the cinema this year exceeding in style and scope. It’s exciting to see where the filmmakers will take it to next, how far into the future? Will they migrate to another city or country? Could they make it a camp romp like the originals? One thing is sure, we all want to see what becomes of Caesar.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is released on 18th July 2014