Jul 102014


When chimp handler Robert Franklin was accidentally exposed to ALZ-113, an Alzheimer’s drug being tested on apes, he set off the beginning of the end of life on Earth as we know it. Human numbers dwindled, while apes (who were enhanced by the drugs) grew stronger. 10 years on we rejoin Caesar and the apes in a brand new world. Review of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes after the jump.

It’s 10 years on from the global pandemic caused by the ALZ-113 virus and the ape community is thriving. Without human interference, they have built a bustling community in national park on the outskirts of San Francisco which middle-aged Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads. It’s been two winters since they saw humans and the apes have assumed that they must have died out. It comes as a shock to the apes when a group of humans appears on their territory and shoots an ape in “self-defence”. Leading the human party is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), co-founder of a human settlement of survivors in San Francisco. They are seeking access to repair a hydro-dam in the park as the settlement’s fuel supply is running low. The apes are wary, none more so than Koba (Toby Kebbell) who is physically and emotionally wounded from his awful treatment at the hands of the humans. Caesar is more trusting, but considering the human’s supply of weapons, is that trust misplaced? Can the apes and humans work something out or is there too much bad blood between them?

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an astounding achievement. From character development, to special effects and cinematography, this film really is quite special. Caesar must be one of the most fully realised, multi-dimensional characters to grace our screens in recent times. His thought-processes are as complex (if not more) as any intelligent human and yet his natural ape characteristics and features are still present. It doesn’t humanise him as much as it shows how little difference there really is between them and us. Caesar is a leader and must show strength & protect his tribe, but at the same time he doesn’t want to write the humans off. His inner turmoil is fascinating. I don’t really understand the line between the talented special effects artists and Andy Serkis in regards to his character and performance, but regardless it’s quite phenomenal. He looks, moves and speaks as if he were completely real and there wasn’t a moment I thought of him being a special effect. The same goes for all the key apes, who each have their own distinct personalities and physical qualities. It’s really something.

As in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the human characters are by far Dawn‘s weakest aspect. The exception to this is Jason Clarke, who is very good as Malcolm, a character who mirrors Caesar in many ways and isn’t merely a single issue/plot device character. He too is conflicted and is able to see both sides of the coin – he wants to survive but doesn’t believe the apes should suffer for it to happen. This puts him at odds with many of the survivors, including settlement co-founder Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a poorly written counter character to Malcolm and his thoughtful consideration. The film’s “villains” desperately needed a little more depth, for their flaws and bad guy qualities are so loud that it’s almost cartoonish. The ape supporting characters are far more rounded, with the huge but incredibly intelligent Maurice (Karin Konoval) again a highlight. It’s a shame the writers forgot about women in this film, giving a token (and thankless) female maternal girlfriend role to Kerri Russell.

This film is relentless and exhausting. We are thrust into the action almost from the beginning and it rarely lets up. The intense and energetic score helps keep the fast pace throughout. I was incredibly impressed by the photography in this film, with several long shots (with very effective blocking) standing out in particular for being so immersive. They really did transport the audience to the heart of the action. It was refreshing to watch an action-packed film that didn’t suffer from a case of the shakes. Who would have guessed that it’s more enjoyable to actually see what’s happening, rather than just blurs? Between this and Cloverfield Matt Reeves has clearly shown that he knows how to direct intense action with skill and restraint.

Intelligent, immersive and intense, this film is really something quite special.


By Sam McCosh

The Facts

Director: Matt Reeves
Writer(s): Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback
Starring: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke
Runtime: 130 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 9 2014; New Zealand July 10 2014; USA: July 11 2014