Film Review – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
It is hard to be caught by surprise twice. When the reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released in 2011, I had low expectations for it. I didn’t see the need for a remake, and its August release date seemed like a harbinger of disaster, since that is usually a studio dumping ground for problem films. It is one of a few films that I’ve come out of being genuinely blown away, because it so exceed my expectations. After destroying the box office and turning all the skeptical filmgoers into believers, the anticipation for a sequel was palpable.
Finally, three years later, we get that sequel we’ve been so eagerly waiting for in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Prior to seeing the film, the continuity in the franchise was a concern for me. Not necessarily in terms of story, but instead on the production side. Gone are the director and essentially all of the cast (minus some ape carryovers), a very uncommon event in a blockbuster movie, though it should be noted this isn’t a first for this franchise and instead, for better or worse, it was built on constant change. Thankfully, here, the writers (Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) remained to create a sense of stability in the story, and wisely, 20th Century Fox brought in veteran director Matt Reeves to guide the production.
Much like the original Planet of the Apes series, the two films so far are fairly different and time is jumped to show how much things have changed. The story takes place 10 years after the original film, after a simian flu has essentially wiped out most of the world’s population. After a two-year absence from each other, human and apes stumble upon each other once again…and a spiral of escalating emotions begins to rise toward each other. The battle between human and apes, and the action spectacle, continue.
Reeves is a complex figure. Originally coming from having created the television series Felicity with JJ Abrams (side note…this probably explains why Keri Russell is in the film), he went on to direct a pair of controversial movies with the monster film Cloverfield and the remake Let Me In (a remake that a lot people felt was unnecessary). While I personally loved both of those movies, I understood the complaints that people had against them. Regardless of people’s perspectives toward those movies, it never really seemed about Reeves’ craftsmanship or storytelling. This provided was his first time to come into an existing franchise and build upon it through his own vision. Reeves has always seemed concerned with telling stories, not in creating CGI-laden blockbusters (an element which is certainly there). Here, he takes a popular franchise and spins it into more of an ape story, rather than a human-centric tale, full of love, friendship, and betrayal. This isn’t necessarily a first in the Apes franchise, but the scale of it is massive. My best summation would be it is one part Animal Farm, one part Shakespeare, and one part Terminator.
Once again, Andy Serkis is a marvel as the ape leader, Caesar. His attention to detail in mimicking the movements and sounds of his character are incredible. The CGI, while mostly very good, didn’t always look spot-on, but Serkis’ action never made you doubt the accuracy of the character. Much like animated films are increasingly being considered for best picture, at some point, the motion-captured actors like Serkis need to be given more award consideration, because the complexity of the their work is frequently under appreciated. More importantly, beyond accurately capturing the movements of the character, he has created a complex and thoughtful character…one who is caught between the human and ape worlds, and understands the tenuous balance that exists. There isn’t much to say about the human characters, honestly; they weren’t particularly noteworthy, except for Jason Clarke and Kodi Smit-McPhee. I don’t really mean to skip over them, but this movie truly is about the ape characters and the ape story lines. The humans really are just a means to push the plot along.
Visually, the film is quite beautiful. Between creating the desolate human society living in the remnants of San Francisco, or the ape city in the forests outside of town, the world is very visually striking. Reeves has done a fantastic job creating two unique societies that, while they may be miles apart, aren’t quite as different as either of them would like to believe. Keep your eyes peeled for some great callbacks to the original Apes series in their city; Reeves has done a great job of honoring the original film material, while still giving it his own spin.
One of the pleasant surprises was the resumption of a successful partnership from past successes, when Reeves brought in Michael Giacchino to guide the score. Besides creating the predictably epic score you would expect from a film like this, he also injects a little bit of nostalgia by including some music that playfully harkened back to the original series from the late 60s/early 70s.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy successor to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It gives what you wanted in the movie, an awesome action film, filled with a bit of heart and an engaging story. If you enjoyed the last one, then this will definitely be of interest to you. It both leaves you wanting more, and contemplating where they will possibly go next with the franchise.