Today I finally sat down to watch the much anticipated follow up to Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (I know what you must be thinking, ‘a bit late, isn’t it?!’, you would be right). Initial thoughts included what a mouthful of a name these films are, mixed with pure excitement and also a few thoughts on where the bloody hell is this film going to take us. The film, like its predecessors, was highly entertaining, and rather ingenious in its use of the contemporary technology at the disposal of the makers fingertips. Planet of the Apes, released in 1968, was an awe-inspiring project at its time of release. Everyone remembers, and can appreciate, that jaw-dropping moment at the end, and no-one discounts that it was a stonker of a film. These re-boots, call them prequels if you will, push the bar so much higher, and are works of great cinema. I’m a sucker for an action blockbuster, which Dawn of the Planet of the Apes really is, but it goes above the cliches and often corny acting founded in that genre. Its captivating (even my pug found it enthralling, barking now and again when the apes were on screen), and the cinematography and mise-en-scene are some of the best I’ve seen in a post-apocalyptic movie.
Enough of the hysterical-i-loved-it babble, what goes on? We join Caeser, now the leader of a pack of nearly a hundred apes, all still living in the Red Woods in San Fransisco. Unlike the film before, when we were in the dark at what the apes sign language meant between one another, we are allowed access to their dialect, and through this learn that ten years on from film one, the humans seem to be all but extinct. A virus, known as the simian flu, took hold, and over a period of ten years the world has changed. There is no sign of Franco or Pinto, which was known anyway, but that’s not as disappointing as one might expect due to the arrival of a new cast who, to my surprise, fill what might of been a void. This cast, consisting of Jason Clarke (of Lawless fame), Kerri Russell, Gary Oldman (firm favorite for many a Batman fan) and Kodi Smit-McPhee give a stellar performance, and bounce well off of each other to paint a picture of just what it is they’ve been through together. The past is not dwelled on however, and it is the present that is of importance in this film. Up until this point the apes and the humans have had no contact, a chance encounter brings them together, and as you probably have already guessed, its not exactly a profound friendship that ensues. While the acting and chemistry is strong from the protagonists, it’s truly Andy Serkis, and his work in performance capture, as he plays Caeser that makes this film what it is – pretty damn good. Serkis, known for previous work in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings does, what I believe to be, his best work to date here and shines as Caeser. Managing to combine mannerisms and almost human traits with facial expressions that produce both sympathy and love from those watching, Serkis brings realism to a talking ape – and in my books, that’s something that isn’t easily done. After all, apes talking. And riding horses. And shooting guns, on paper, sounds like a pretty perplexing film. But with Matt Reeve’s excellent hand at directing (not only does San Fran look dilapidated, it has an eery feel to it, again just adding to the realistic effect Dawn’ gives viewers), some of the best CGI you’ve probably seen in a while and the early scenes simply but stylishly explaining how the world got like it did, this second attempt at a reboot of a classic, is one that doesn’t disappoint.
The action scenes are never overplayed (or overlong), and the film has an acceptable running time of 131 minutes. The shots where Koba (appropriately named ‘fugly’ at one point) finally takes his revenge are neither downplayed, nor over-hyped, and shot with a war-aesthetic. Scenes of battle don’t feel silly as though one feels they should, but just enthralling and really rather tense. There are some moments to pick at, like with most features. When the end came, it felt as though something, and I’m not entirely sure what, was missing (maybe a final scene with Russell and Smit-McPhee would of been appreciated), and while the scripted scenes between the apes were fascinating, at times they felt overdrawn. To end on a positive, the early scenes with basically no actual dialogue were works of genius, and shows just how far cinema has come. To be entirely hooked, while the apes chase down their pray, but just sign to one-another rather than actually speak was perfectly thought out; allowing the audience to enjoy the cinematography and wooded landscape, as well as the performance capture of the apes was judged well, and are some of the best moments of the whole piece.
Overall, a pretty satisfying follow-up to Rise’, which set the ball rolling for a successful franchise. The third, and final, has been said to be named after the original, and hopefully will hold the same excitement and awe that this, and the others, have.