Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Kirk Acevedo and Toby Kebbell
Plot: The apes encounter humans for the first time in two years, sparking a debate about their plan of action, putting Caesar’s (Serkis) leadership to the test.
When I first heard about the Planet of the Apes getting a prequel, I was dismayed. After the awful remake, I felt that the classic Sci-Fi with Charlton Heston should be left alone. Further insults to the franchise would diminish the timelessness of the piece. However, Rupert Wyatt surprised us with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, when he thought about a logical way to show the audience fresh material to the universe. It was clever, made sense and improved the original story. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes goes one step further. Not only is the way this story is told logical and intelligent, a lot of the themes on show here reflect our political climate and dissect topical issues with society. We almost forget that we are watching a well-established series and that we are being treated to an OSCAR-winner moralising on the state of modern warfare. The story smartly reflects the sadness of going to war. We get two sides of a coin: apes and humans. The humans are on their last legs, all but wiped out by the virus started in the last movie. They need to get to a generator to start up their city and help them connect with other survivor groups in America. The catch is that the generator in question is bang splat in the middle of Caesar’s territory. The apes are fine as they are; unlike the humans, they do not need to chase energy sources to survive (yeah, Reeves is going to bring the Middle-East into this debate!). The problem is that the apes have only ever seen the nasty side of humanity. Can they allow the humans to exist this closely to their sanctuary? And are they willing to help the humans get more power – power that is very likely to be used against them somewhere down the line?
The sad thing about this movie is that there isn’t a bad side here. The humans aren’t painted as evil and the apes aren’t war-hungry savages. Caesar doesn’t want war; yes, he knows he can win very easily, but the humans have enough guns to slaughter thousands of his people in the battle. However, his people are scared and think that striking first is the only real option. The humans are held back by their lack of understanding of their enemy (yeah, more political context); in their eyes, the apes are a factor of the apocalypse. You might as well be asking them to negotiate with a horde of zombies. One particular ignorant human blames the apes for the virus that almost wiped them out, even though it was the human scientists that technically created the flu. It is the individual characters that make the difference: one human, Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, sees the opportunity for peace and earns Caesar’s trust by showing him that humans can be good. It is one human lashing out that makes the entire ape population forget the kinder side of them. Caesar’s right-hand ape, Koba, is right to hate the humans; he has only ever been tortured by them, he hasn’t experienced any reason why they should be allowed to live. His actions that border upon terrorism are the spark that makes the humans tempted to abandon talk of peace. We can see how well the apes and humans could co-exist, but a few bad eggs could bring down everything Malcolm and Caesar are working hard to achieve.
Yes, there are many layers to the story here and the true brilliance of this film does lie with the examination of good and evil. Anyone wanting to explore Darwin’s theories or humanity’s morality will be more than pleased with Reeve’s film. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes never forgets to be a crowd-pleaser as well. Yes, those wanting to get to the scenes where CGI monkeys ride horses and wield machine guns might be disheartened by the slow build-up, but when the action gets going, it really is magnificent. Rise of the Planet of the Apes had a good climax to end its heart-warming story on, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is phenomenal. The fight scenes are well choreographed, echoing how apes would actually fight in the wild. When the apes do ride horse or learn how to shoot guns, it does not look silly, like you are worried it will. The story sweeps you along so swiftly that you won’t consider the absurdity of the entire situation. This already gives it one up on the original Planet of the Apes.
Of course, the CGI is what really makes that. The motion capture is amazing. This film has no problem abandoning the human actors for large amounts of time, confident that we can get enough emotional resonance through the apes. Gary Oldman doesn’t feature as much as you would like, but it never matters, because the apes are really the heart of the story. We know how humanity acts in war-time; it is the apes that we want to explore. Andy Serkis is on fine form here, saying very little, but conveying every emotion and line through his body language. He has such an on-screen presence and he isn’t even really there. The most emotional scenes are the ones he shares with his son. The eyes are what really takes your breath away. Caesar’s son has a complicated character arc and the animators show us all that through his eyes. You forget that all of this is digitally created. While Serkis was leading the way with the first movie, this time around the other apes are just as good. I would even go as far as to say that Toby Kebbel’s Koba steals the show. He is a delicious villain, nasty to the core yet far too fun to truly hate. I wouldn’t mind the next movie abandoning the humans and being 100% monkey.
Final Verdict: A clever story and amazing CGI: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be a strong contender for film of the year.