After watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, lots of things came to mind, and as I broached the subject of writing a proper review, I realised for this film I just couldn’t do it. Now, I’m still pretty lacking in my knowledge on writing a proper review, but one thing that seems to be pretty important is to not completely spoil the film for your reader.
Of course, I don’t intend to do that, but some of the twists and turns in Dawn are such that I couldn’t not discuss them. So, when I say [SPOILER ALERT], this time, I really mean it.
But know that although I will be reviewing things; this isn’t so much a straiht-up review, so much as my thoughts on various parts of the film.
A 20th Century Fox Film, Directed by Matt Reeves
Released: 26th June 2014
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Judy Greer
Review: So, to look at the film, I thought I’d talk firstly about the story, then a little bit about the characters, before rounding off with some final thoughts on the product. Here we go.
It’s been a while since I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but even without that fresh in my memory, Dawn never felt like it was going too fast. During the opening credits, we are greeted with a mix of news alerts, that quickly reveals that in the past 10 years, the human race has become all but extinct. The film then begins with Caesar, Koba and Maurice from Rise, with a host of new Apes and even a new generation, who have forged a “home”, a “family” and a “future”. However, trouble returns when a couple of the younger apes find some surviving humans. Not wanting war, the Apes and the Humans are forced to work together to maintain a peace; which inevitably fails, as people from each side cannot let go of their distrust of the other.
This is the first film in a while when I hadn’t watched a trailer beforehand. In fact, the last time I watched a film like that, it was probably Gravity; and so I was going into the cinema without even a basic knowledge of what to expect beyond Man v. Ape. And so, I was spared the disappointment that I found with both Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla, in that I could enjoy the film with fresh eyes.
I found the plot to be just as rich and entertaining as the previous film, with just the right mixture of humour, action, and strangely enough, romance. The build-up to the final battle doesn’t feel forced at all, and the fake-out where we find the actual final battle will be between Caesar and Koba is even more rewarding.
The way the humans are reintroduced to the Apes is similarly interesting. They are not hunting them for the sake of it, they just happen to find the Apes have created their new home near the Dam which they seek power from. The conflict is seeded from the start, and is worked on very slowly to find its end point.
As the film started, one of the main things I started thinking about was that how, especially more recently, some films, no matter how good they are, you can’t escape the fact that it’s the actor you’re looking at, and not the characters.
An example: Doctor Who; in Doctor Who, whoever plays the Doctor is predominantly known to the world around as The Doctor, usually because it is their breakout role. However, in the recent 50th anniversary special, you can’t escape the fact that John Hurt isn’t the ‘War’ Doctor, but the ‘War’ Doctor is John Hurt.
That’s not to say he’s not convincing; it’s just that his face is just too well known to think of him as anything else at this point. It happens all the time whenever a big name actor is brought in, and rather than just having their name in the credits like everyone else, they have a ‘with’ thrown in, or a ‘featuring’, or ‘and _____ as _______’.
However, when you’re watching a film where most of the actors I was familiar with were monkeys, that problem flew away. And everyone’s always up for a bit of Gary Oldman, so his inescapable presence didn’t hurt much either. In fact, the motion-capture monkeys were so believable and moving that in the future, when I think back on who Andy Serkis is to me, it may well be Caesar, and not Gollum as most people would expect. His character arch in the series is a really moving one, and although he may sometimes stray into darkness, he’s still everyone’s favourite character, which made me all the more shocked when he was shot down by Koba. Without a good enough memory to remember characters from the previous Planet of the Apes series’, I couldn’t remember how vital Caesar was to the franchise, and thus was unsure of just how he could survive a bullet to the chest. He’s not Optimus Prime in Transformers, where no matter how many times he gets killed, he will come back. I honestly believed that he might stay dead, and the rest of the film would follow Koba’s war with the humans, under who’s leaderships the Apes would fall down to the same level as humanity.
And although I loved the film I did see, that would have been something I would just as happily have watched, as despite being a seemingly horrible character, Koba’s darkness was just something nurtured in him by humanity. Like Carver on the humans side, Koba’s motives are understandable; the way humans have treated him, and the way their tests backfired and wiped out humanity are motivation enough for both characters to do what they do. Although they are the ‘bad guys’, they become so in a way that you don’t really blame them for what they are doing. Even when Koba plays dumb before shooting two humans point blank in the face, you’re more amused by his antics than you are shocked by his brutality.
So with good characters, and an interesting plot, there’s my brief sort-of review of the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Personally, I can’t wait until 2016 when the sequel comes out; I think this has been one of my top five films of the year. Not necessarily good films mind you, just the ones I’ve enjoyed the most, namely…
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
22 Jump Street
Non-Stop (What can I say? I love Liam Neeson).
Of course, that list could change in the next few weeks, what with a Dwayne Johnson starring Hercules and another shot of The Expendables coming up…