Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you're an avid fan of sci-fi, though you crave a summer blockbuster which fits into this genre whilst transcending it's usual barriers, so as to allow through emotional themes alongside the awe-inspiring effects and action sequences.

Skip it... if you expect Reeve's second installment into this reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise to conform to your normal Sci-Fi film layout, and you wish nothing for the emotional spectacle and social commentary that make this film stand out from the crowd of blockbusters swarming us this summer.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes fan-made poster
Credit: Matt Ferguson
"We, the Internet, demand that the Academy acknowledge the efforts of those involved in bringing god-damned apes to life!"

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a film directed by Matt Reeves, and it stars Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman. It is a sequel to 2011's surprisingly impressive reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and continues the story of Caesar, a genetically modified ape, capable of feats that require great intelligence. The film is set 10 years after Rise, and since the previous film most of the human race has been wiped away by the Simian flu, which was introduced to the world at the end of the film. A group of apes, led by Caesar, have come to flourish on the outer boundaries of San Francisco, whilst humans inside the city struggle to restore power to their small community. The two races must join together in peace, to ensure the continued survival of both groups.

In all honesty, everyone expected 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the reboot to the Planet of the Apes franchise, to not only bomb on a commercial level, but certainly on a critical level. But when it turned out that the film, helmed by second-time director Rupert Wyatt, had become a success on both commercial and critical consensus', the producers of the film rushed to green light a sequel which would continue the now re-established franchise into more unknown territory. And after 3 years, a change of director, and a nearly complete change of cast, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has arrived in all it's glory. The critical consensus at this point in time is leaning towards high acclaim; Metacritic has awarded a 79/100 for this film; the ranks at IMDb have gifted a strong 8.6 at the present for the title; Rotten Tomatoes has been quite possibly the most positive, gifting a resoundingly positive 91% approval rate to Reeve's work, concluding it as one of the strongest blockbusters of the summer so far. All in all, the crowds and critics agree that Dawn is one of the best films of the year at the present time. My thoughts? Do I agree with this consensus? Do I find you all mad for loving this film? Is this going to be 2014's Iron Man 3 for myself? Well, fortunately for myself and all those reading, I rather enjoyed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and not just on a technical level, but on an emotional level. Like the first film in the franchise, which I rather enjoyed, it's not so much the special effects that make this film something to marvel upon; it's the emotional content which should resonate with the viewer most. Our main character, Caesar, an ape, is the emotional focal point of this film, and his actions may often leave you speechless or crying. This is a remarkably affecting film, and the vast majority of audience members should be able to find some sort of meaning or message that stretches beyond the common place and obvious "Don't kill or mistreat animals." This picture is something that reserves the use of the not-so-often used term "memorable."

Most of this is down to the Oscar-worthy performance of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Allow me to join the ranks of critics and audience members alike who are yearning for a nomination in regards to this outstanding performer. In fact, let us begin a petition; we, the Internet, demand that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences acknowledge the efforts of those involved in bringing emotional and life-like CGI apes to life, specifically Andy Serkis, the man behind the most affecting and powerful motion-capture character in all of entertainment. Move over Gollum, because Caesar has taken the pedestal. Serkis brings the character to life with both a mix of civilized actions and dialogue, as befits an ape whose intelligence is slowly growing, as well as more animalistic and natural tendencies which are explored as the ape experiences his angrier or more aggressive moments, and therefore create a character which certainly feels like a remarkably intelligent being, whilst appearing, sounding and moving like an ape. Serkis' performance is much more physical and confident in this installment, and it helps establish Caesar as a fully developed leader in his own right; Caesar leads his own tribe of apes, and helps make decisions for all of them. This allows the ape to become more-so a relatable character than he was in Rise, which is far welcome. He's no longer submissive to any human characters; Caesar is no pet to anyone. He is his own, independent character, which is far more relatable and enjoyable to watch. Again, it all comes back to Serkis' performance, as he is the one who embodies Caesar to the core, and makes him into such an incredible character. Ultimately, this is the best performance we could have hoped for for our main character, and if the Academy dismisses Serkis once again, various strikes will be had.

Whilst Serkis' incredible performance is the crowning jewel on this film and it's cast of apes, the rest of the ape cast should certainly not be dismissed as anything less than fantastic. Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Nick Thurston and Doc Shaw, among others, have all given fantastic performances here, and have helped in providing life and emotion for all the apes that they embodied. But the standout of the film, apart from Caesar? Toby Kebbell as Caesar's lieutenant, Koba. Unlike Caesar, who is a much more civil and gentle ape, Koba is an animal who tends to lean more on his aggressive nature, and demands that a war with the humans go ahead. His interactions with Caesar are often tense and heated, and he allows for issues to be found with the ape community; not everyone is wholeheartedly with Caesar's point of view, that the humans should just be left to their own devices and not meddled with. It's these clash of opinions and personalities that makes this community less than completely pure, which I felt would be the primary issue with this film. I was thinking that this film in general would turn out like Avatar; I figured the plot would go somewhat like, "the humans are all greedy, distasteful characters, except for a small few who are dedicated to helping the mistreated, pure and perfect non-human characters." Whilst there are a few portions of that description that are accurate, the majority of what I've said is completely incorrect in regards to this film. The apes aren't completely free of distasteful, and even evil characters and personalities, as is the case with the humans. All the motivations, for both humans and apes, are fully realised, and so you can somewhat sympathize with all points of view. Caesar's point of view is neutral, as he has seen the good that humans can produce thanks to James Franco's character which we saw in Rise. Koba is aggressive towards the humans, mainly because prior to his release that was prompted by Caesar, he had been experimented on for humans for over half a decade. Our main human character, Jason Clarke's Malcolm, believes that peace is an achievable desire, and that by working together, both man and ape benefit. Gary Oldman's character, Dreyfus, firmly believes apes are a danger to his people, and that they are but only animals. All have reasonable motivations which you can take as believable.

This is down primarily to the sensational screenplay, written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, which explores all the characters in great depth, and exposes each individual character's back story, as well as their thoughts and beliefs. Yet, this can be an issue that stilts the flow of the film, most notably during the conversations where we learn about the outcome of the human race after Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A few of the conversations between the characters Dreyfus and Malcolm feel very much like exposition, with the dialogue between the two not sounding all too natural. Despite this minor flaw, the screenplay in it's entirety is an astounding piece of work that has been masterfully adapted by Reeves, the director of the picture. His vision for this film is gloomy and saddening, and he fits the entire colour palette as dark. This should be one of the main draws of the film; this much more realistic, murky look to everything. It fit the tone of the screenplay perfectly. This execution and look of the film is down to a number of factors, including some incredibly beautiful set design, the costume and make-up design, the weather, and most importantly the more aesthetically pleasing apes. Don't get me wrong; the apes in Rise were every bit as emotional as these are, and that was primarily down to the eyes. They looked intelligent-like, and allowed the audience to draw some sort of connection with these non-human beings. Here, though, in Dawn, the apes have every single detail explored to it's full extent. From the matting of their fur, to various scars, to the crinkles and delicate lining of their faces, every single ape looks absolutely incredible. They all look especially impressive whilst the weather is dark and wet; the first few scenes in the film have rain pouring down upon the apes, and this leaves their fur matted and thoroughly soaked. It all looks completely photo-realistic, and so credit must be pointed towards WETA for delivering some of the strongest CGI components in a film to date. In terms of character design and execution, they've certainly outdone themselves greater than any other film from recent memory. 

Whilst the majority of the technical components of this film are utterly outstanding and without fault; those which fall into this category include the use of CGI, the set design, costume design, lighting, and the impeccable use of camera work, the film does hit a barrier when it comes to it's music. Whilst Michael Giacchino's efforts, which I will explore further in a separate review later this week, certainly work within the context of the darker tone and add to the dramatic tension for the majority of the picture, there are a few moments when the music doesn't at all match the images which we are seeing on screen. For example, there is a scene involving Gary Oldman which should've incorporated intense, angry or brooding music, but instead implements a heroic, brief motif of brass. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever! What were the sound mixers doing during this scene? I can only stipulate that they were watching something else whilst they added the music to this scene. These kind of slip-ups happens rarely, though it is still completely noticeable when it does occur. Fortunately, though, like I've mentioned, the score does work exceptionally well within the context of the film, especially in regards to the apes' material, which is thoroughly impressive. It can be beautiful, unrelenting, and often quite emotional, so props to Giacchino, despite these missteps.

Ultimately, any faults which I've made note of during this review are by far undermined by the sheer quantity of brilliance in regards to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is one of the films of the year, which should captivate you from beginning to end with it's grand spectacle, it's deeper story than the previous installment in the franchise, and it's glorious performances from it's main ape stars. As a Sci-Fi film, this is an exciting, visually astounding film, which sports technical bravado across the board. As a piece of dramatic entertainment, this film holds enough impressive performances, captivating dialogue, plot twists and heart-wrenching moments to separate itself from the recent income of disastrous blockbuster material. As for anyone who was scared in regards to the marketing campaigns, and whether or not the film would indeed take darker and more sinister turns, certainly in comparison to it's predecessor, you shall certainly not be disappointed. I came to the film expecting impressive looking apes and a few rather glorious action sequences, though what I got far transcends this expectation; Dawn appeals as not only an action or Sci-Fi film, but as a dramatic endeavour, and even a war film. In final conclusion, it's not the film of the year as I'd hoped, though I can say for sure that it's damn close. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is showing in theatres everywhere currently.


What did you think of the film? Comment below!                 


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