Review – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Poster for 2014 sci-fi sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Genre: Sci-Fi
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 17th July 2014
Runtime: 130 minutes
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver 
Starring: Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Judy Greer, Keri Russell  
Synopsis: The new society of intelligent apes is threatened when they bump into a group of humans who were able to survive the simian flu.

 

Amidst the blockbuster scramble of 2011, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a pleasant surprise. It proved that reboots can work, as long as they are smart, entertaining and provide a different spin on the previous versions of the story. Three years later, Matt Reeves has taken over the reins and produced a sequel that is bigger, better and brilliant.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his right-hand ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) have formed the beginnings of a civilised society in the woods. Meanwhile, a small group of virus-resistent humans, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), are struggling to keep the lights turned on in their own makeshift home. When these two groups collide after a chance meeting, the continued existence of both fragile factions is threatened.

The first thing to mention when talking about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is that the motion capture work is nothing short of incredible. Visual effects company Weta Digital, in conjunction with a series of very talented ape performers, has managed to create realistic, rounded characters out of cold, hard pixels.

| "If we go to war, we could lose all we’ve built."

Andy Serkis’ lead ape Caesar is an absolute marvel. He is the perfect synergy of human performance and technological development. Lacking the human lead of Rise to anchor the story, all of the narrative heavy lifting rests on the shoulders of Serkis and Weta. The effect is mind-blowing. The ape society feels plausible and intriguing, with the lack of humans completely failing to hinder the film’s opening act.

Whilst it’s Serkis that rightly receives massive praise for his mo-cap work, the utter success of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes owes just as much debt to franchise newcomer Toby Kebbell. His performance as Koba is brittle, aggressive and animalistic in the best possible way. He’s the warmongering yin to Caesar’s pacifistic yang.

Replacing Rupert Wyatt in the director’s chair, Matt Reeves is also an integral part of the puzzle. His decision to shoot much of the mo-cap work on location in Vancouver rather than in a studio was a brave one, but it pays off in sheer scale and spectacle. Reeves strips back the bombast – at least until the all-action finale – to let the nuances of the CGI shine. Shots where he visits the innermost depths of Caesar’s eyes showcase an eye for detail that should leave James Cameron rather embarrassed.

| "It was a virus created by scientists in a lab. You can’t honestly blame the apes?"

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes together brilliantly as it veers towards its finale. It doesn’t rush the build-up in order to reach the explosive conclusion, spending plenty of time on its quiet beginnings, establishing the intricacies and dynamics of the ape society. Reeves has no interest in aping – if you’ll pardon the pun – Michael Bay and understands that spectacle only works when it is backed up by a solid story and characters with real emotional depth.

At its heart, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a formulaic, simple film. The narrative beats are predictable and mostly unsurprising, but there’s enough in the way of innovation and technical beauty to ensure that the film is every bit as entertaining and spectacular as its predecessor.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a real contender for blockbuster of the year. It combines smart direction and perfectly-pitched performances with arguably the most impressive CGI ever committed to celluloid courtesy of the consistently innovative Weta Digital.

This latest incarnation of the Apes saga has blown audiences away twice already and looks set to be one of the most exciting mega-budget franchises in modern cinema. Serkis and co. certainly aren’t monkeying around.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

One thought on “Review – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

  • 09/08/2014 at 14:45
    Permalink

    Agree 100% with the pacing; good movie, good review. Check out my review and some others whilst you’re there!

    Reply

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