Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 07.20.2014
Just like King Kong, it sits on top a tall tower of the box office worldwide but does Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes deserve a banana or two thrown it's direction or a Bi-plane gunning down? 411's resident monkey Terry Lewis finds out
Andy Serkis - Caesar Toby Kebbell - Koba Karin Konoval - Maurice Nick Thurston - Blue Eyes Doc Shaw - Ash
Jason Clark - Malcolm Gary Oldman - Dreyfus Keri Russell - Ellie Kodi Smit-McPhee - Alexander Kirk Acevedo - Carver
My grandmother always used to tell me "you can always have too much of a good thing." Thinking about it, her sponge cakes certainly helped make me the overweight chap I am today so she did have a point. Similarly, despite being the only monkey show in town, the sequel to the reboot of the Planet Of The Apes in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes manages to blow you out with simply too much broken English speaking apes, despite being a technical masterpiece.
It's 2026 and it's been 10 years since Caesar (motion capture go to man Andy Serkis, Lord Of the Rings) and his group of intelligence-enhanced chimpanzees broke out of their test lab and retreated to the San Francisco Hills forests. Since they have developed a thriving community and worked on their communication through sign language and some speech. The human race is on the brink of extinction however (thanks to an inadvertently set off Simian Flu virus on Caesar's escape) and there's a plot to reactivate a hydroelectric dam in ape territory to restore power in San Fran through understanding Malcolm (Jason Clark, White House Down) and ex-military Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, Robocop). After an accidental shooting of an ape by a human, Malcolm brokers an uneasy peace with Caesar, whilst Malcolm gives him a strict timeline to succeed and Caesar's second-in-command, the more violent Koba (Toby Kebbell, Wrath Of The Titans), makes plans in the background.
In a bit of a surprise role reversal, Dawn Of Apes concentrates a helluva lot more on the chimpanzee tribe than the human survivors. Whilst nearly all of the apes are computer generated images, it's a testament to the motion capture and superb acting talent from the actors chosen to bring to reality human- and life-like movements, expressions and emotions of the apes. Serkis is no stranger to this method from film making and is the unofficial king of it after his turn as Gollum from Lord Of The Rings. He gets to add more to Caesar in the original of the Apes reboot universe as a wise head who will not put the safety of his tribe at risk. At odds with Koba, Kebbell gets over the slow build of Koba embracing human acts of revenge and war which is balanced perfectly with his constant requests for forgiveness. There's alot to like in the ape side of the cast and it gets to the point that even smaller characters being bumped off hits with an emotional resonance too, so it's a tremendous feat accomplished to get a completely CGI construct over as a source of relatable feelings and something for the audience to get into.
I get the impression that Oldman may feel sort of short changed with the amount of screentime he ends up with. In only about 10 minutes of the two hour runtime, I get the feeling he's meant to have a bigger role on the cutting room floor yet what he's given to do here as group leader who pores that tap when needed and showing his human side when he sees his dead family on his iPad for the first time in years. Same as Lawless, for such a good actor you want to see more of old Gary because he is that damn good. Clark takes the brunt of the human acting work then and it is a little bit of a star making performance. There's aspects I really dug like when he first enters Caesar's tribe's stronghold and he has this brilliant mix of amazement and fear etched on his face. Whilst not stealing the show from the apes themselves, he makes a good impression and I can't wait for him as John Connor in the next Terminator movie from this alone. Away from the main two human actors, everyone is good enough in the limited time to get over their roles, although I reserve special praise for bigoted survivor Carter, played by Kirk Acevedo (Fringe), who gets over the Joe Public human view of wiping out the apes and taking the dam back.
Easily the best aspect of Dawn Of Apes is simply how brilliant the CGI looks. It's the best computer generated imagery I've seen in cinema for a long time. There's tonnes of little details where the budget has been totally blown like seeing all the individual hairs on each individual ape and it's a visual feast for the eyes in general. There's no obvious blue screen to take yourself out of the film when human characters are interacting with the apes, so that's massive bonus points from me. Even things away from the apes like weather effects are pretty sweet look, with a particularly nice dawn & sunrise in the climatic end to the film. Hell, it's a damn nice looking film in general, with particular care taken to flesh out sets. Fans of The Last Of Us videogame and similar post-apocalypse thriller I Am Legend will enjoy reminders to the overgrown city look with downtown San Fran looking particularly grubby and overgrown forests choke out human elements like a gas station. The Ape tribe's home base built entirely out of a forest is pretty awe inspiring but there's an effort to make it look lived in, with areas for schooling younglings and Ape laws on the wall, as well as threatening with suicide runs in case humans try and get into the base. Lovely stuff.
Thematically, there's plenty to tuck into. It's not been done in awhile so the Cold War analogy sticks out with the two tribes of human and ape eventually start to realise that they are not that unlike. Caesar eventually remembers that his former trainer/owner in the lab was not the only decent human being whilst Koba's subplot eventually makes him realise that his tribe of increased intelligence Apes are not as above humans he once thought. I applaud something like this in a big budget blockbuster, because it proves you can do big, thought-provoking themes in a massive science fiction summer behemoth of a film and what price would I give to someone like Michael Bay recognising this, instead of something totally brainless. The human side is kept downplayed but to be honest we can already see they are desperate with fuel running out and start stockpiling weapons to show off their natural scummy side whilst Caesar and the apes that follow him seem keen to not start a war, but will show their force if needed, in their attempt to take the high road. This eye for thought makes the subplots later on pay off handsomely and some great resolutions to characters arcs.
But whilst there is a great deal to like about Dawn Of Apes, I really can't bring myself to call it an instant classic. Simply put, I feel there's too much of the apes in general. Sure we know what humans do and how bad they can be to show Malcolm's group for the most part as a source of pure goodness of humankind, but at the same time there's not enough balance in on-screen time. With the apes taking up the majority of the movie, our lovely treat of seeing humanised apes is spoilt. I feel Caesar has waaaaaaaay too much dialogue now. It loses it's effectiveness about halfway through as being special and there's too many apes who can talk now. Yes, it's in Broken English and for most part it's grunted with subtitles but what it means is the whole gimmick of Apes talking and doing human things becomes less and less special. As I said, you can have too much of a good thing and this came close to overkill.
Along with the internal problem of you know how the film is going to end and a really simple plot, the difference between this and it's predecessor Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was that the journey was fresh and told from a new perspective the first time around even with the same problems of knowing the ending. Here, it just doesn't have the same resonating emotional impact from the end of the plot and despite being filled with chewy, thought-provoking themes, it doesn't have a suitable thought at the end to go out on. Apart from two stand out action moments with a final ape-on-ape fist fight on top of a construction tower and the film's defining moment with Koba leaping through a wall of fire whilst riding a horse and dual wielding machine guns, you maybe left disappointed with a lack of action scenes. For all this talk of a war between man and ape, I wouldn't back any money on our potential simian foes being much of a threat since I don't see how they can be one. They don't have a strategy when they come to our urban world apart from wreck stuff up. Compare that to a hinted at military base at the end of the movie and the apes' guerrilla tactics (Sorry - could not help myself!) do not fly.
The 411: A masterpiece if this was reviewed just on the technical side and behind the scenes filmmaking, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes feels like after you just eat a massive cake all to yourself - kinda satisfying but repentant. Spellbinding CG, great acting all round from both humans & apes and an unexpected change of point of view are all very good & worth going to see this alone, yet whilst this is a superb movie, the internal problems of the start of diminishing returns at points with Ape overkill means I myself would like a bit of a wait on the next one although it is inevitable given the way it's sitting on top of the box office.