Sequels can be tough – getting the right balance to improve on it’s predecessor, but not overdo it is almost an art form these days. Thankfully Matt Reeves knew exactly what he was doing when we was making Dawn of the Planet of the Apes… and the result is a sight to behold.
Sitting in the trees in the rain, just biding their time… stalking their prey and waiting for that perfect moment to strike. Caesar gives the command to advance, and the 50 or so apes that are waiting around him take off, silently moving from tree to tree at high speed. As they swing from tree to tree it’s clear that several apes are carrying spears, and they’re communicating effectively to make sure their target is approached from the right angle.
This opening scene to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sets the tempo for the whole film. It showcases exactly how far they’ve come since their escape from the Gensys lab, and their exodus over the Golden State bridge into the nearby woodlands. The apes work together effectively, and it’s clear from the off that they’re a well-oiled and impressive machine in their endeavours.
I went to see this movie on Tuesday, as part of Cineworld Cinemas’ “Secret Screening” programme. The long and short of it is that they put on a movie screening, but they don’t know what it’s going to be, and neither do you until the movie starts. So you get your ticket, and you wait for the surprise – often it’s a movie that hasn’t come out yet. The movie is always introduced by someone involved in the making of it… so when Andy Serkis popped up on screen to for a brief introduction, there was a riotous cheer from the crowd.
This new movie follows Rupert Wyatt‘s excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes from 2011, which introduced us to intelligent super ape Caesar as he was brought up by scientist Will Rodman (played by James Franco). After being placed in a zoo, and promptly mistreated by Draco Malfoy… I mean, Tom Felton… Caesar gets very pissed off, and stages an uprising, escaping to the woodlands and decimating police forces that tried to stop them on the Golden Gate bridge in the process. The other result is that the drug that provides the apes with their heightened intelligence creates a disease which kills humans, and is particularly virulent.
Fast-forward 10 years, and Caesar and his ape family are happily living in the woodlands… whereas humans have been dying of what’s been dubbed “Simian Flu”, and of course apes are to blame (not the humans that created the virus in a lab in the first place). When the ape community encounters a small band of humans, the threat of war between the two groups will lead to a potential conflict that could prove which is the dominant species on Earth.
What’s clear from the offset in DOTPOTA is that we’ve reached a point technologically where Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is no different to that of any other actor in the movie, despite it being motion-captured. The level of detail in the ape character models, and the emotion that’s conveyed is mind-blowing, and as a result you really do connect with Caesar and his family on quite a deep emotional level. Serkis really has pushed himself to the limit, and he’s come out with an astounding performance that often plucks the heartstrings as a result.
Gary Oldman puts in a great performance (as always) as Dreyfus, the leader of the human group… though it felt like he didn’t get the screen time he deserved. Jason Clarke put in a decent performance as Malcom too, and the eerily Jay Baruchel-like Kodi Smit-McPhee did a good brooding turn as Malcom’s son. To be honest, all the actors did a really good job, and Fringe’s Kirk Acevedo put in a good turn as a massive douchecanoe too.
Despite the good performances from the human characters though, it’s clear that the performance capture team have outdone them, as the real stars of the movie are the apes. The humans seem to sit on the sidelines rather a lot, and most of the emphasis is put on the divisive conflict between Caesar and the wannabe leader Koba (Toby Kebbell).
Visually the film is amazing – the effects work is second-to-none, with no noticeably visible dodginess. All the apes are beautifully rendered, in particular the rather malevolent Koba who gets a lot of close-up snarling face shots. The ape village is impressive too, and in terms of set design it’s really interesting to look at and see how the apes move around the different levels.
The cinematography is great, and some of the camera angles used (particularly on the Golden Gate bridge, and in the city) are breathtaking. There’s some great action sequences and thankfully these aren’t viewed in a headache–inducing “Bourne Identitiy” style, despite the fast moving apes and Gorillas. The use of 3D isn’t huge throughout, so I would say that paying that bit extra to see it in 3D would be a bit of a waste as it doesn’t really enhance anything (despite my well documented hate of 3D movies in general).
The use of music in the movie is spot on too, assisting in accentuating the atmosphere and emotion in particular scenes. Michael Giacchino has done a good job with the this, but then after working on Fringe & Star Trek Into Darkness he was a great choice for it.
In terms of what I didn’t like about the movie, there’s not much. In fact upon thinking about it for a couple of days, it’s definitely one of my top 5 movies of the year so far. The only thing I thought of was that the human aspect to the movie was overlooked in favour of the apes, and as a result Gary Oldman & Co didn’t get much of a look in. We didn’t get to see how the humans have had to cope with adversity much, or what the effects of the simian flu were (outside of the opening credits sequence).
Overall Reeves has built a solid sequel that develops the story at a great pace, and continues to keep the audience involved and emotionally invested in Caesar and his family. Often tense and thrilling, yet also tender and emotional, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should definitely be on your watch list.