Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes – Review
By the time you read this, it’ll have been a week since much-revered director Christopher Nolan took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal for his assessment of the state of Hollywood today. A cracking read, amongst Nolan’s many observations was an acknowledgement of a time coming in which “movies can no longer be defined by technology”, a statement which – although intended to refer to the technology playing the movie – can be taken in a different manner out of context a week prior to the opening of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes; the sequel to a 2011 movie which briefly opened up genuine debate as to whether or not the performance behind a computer animated character could or even should earn the actor behind it an Academy Award nomination.
Following on ten years from the events of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, humanity has been all but wiped out by the Simian flu – an accidental byproduct of events depicted in Rise. Yet while what little remains of humanity struggles to survive in a deserted and broken settlement, Caesar and his people thrive in the nearby forest – the apes now having settled into their free lives and established a system of leadership and law. When a group of humans happen upon the ape settlement however, their encounter sets in motion a series of events that threaten to destroy both societies once and for all.
Despite low expectations ahead of its (shockingly well-received) release, there were some rather surprising qualities to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes; chiefly a level of heart and a well-crafted (albeit rather traditionally Icarus-like) story. Both of which, despite having lost previous director Rupert Wyatt, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes retains and even occasionally enhances. Shifting the focus this time from a recognisable everyday world to a more post-apocalyptic setting, it’s to the credit of returning writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver that both the tale told and characters within remain as grounded and investable as they do, here bypassing even the fun kitsch factor of a James Franco scientist with a new human character played with great intelligence by former Zero Dark Thirty actor Jason Clarke. The supporting human characters fare better this time around as well, with Kerri Russell and Gary Oldman both providing excellently written counterpoints for Clarke’s Malcolm; and while Kodi Smit McPhee’s Alexander may seem a tad underwritten, the young actor plays the role with enough subtlety and poise to win over the staunchest cynics.
It goes without saying that Dawn belongs to the titular apes, all of whom here have had their previously superb animation further evolved (pun absolutely intended) to cut down on a large amount of the last outing’s more obvious digital seams and played to sheer perfection by an obviously talented cast, with particular props going to Toby Kebbell’s near-terrifying portrayal of Koba. It’s Andy Serkis that’s getting us all through the door though and everyone involved knows it, with Serkis proving for the umpteenth time now that you can bury him under as much mo-cap technology as you like, but you’re still going to get an Oscar-grade performance out of him no matter what.
On the production side, Matt Reeves proves an inspired choice to replace Wyatt, with his pedigree in both effects-driven horror and TV drama providing the perfect marriage of specialties with which to deliver a fluidic and engaging sense of spectacle that knows just when to slow down and allow the characters time to breathe. Reeves puts in all the makings of at least two-thirds of a great experience, the final third coming courtesy of Michael Giacchino and his wonderfully elegant and subtle score. A sublime merging of would-be “classical Apes music” with the now-traditional Giacchino style adds serious heft to the film, taking Patrick Doyle’s very enjoyable work on Rise to a whole new level in line with the story’s now-higher stakes.
Perhaps a tad overlong at 131 minutes, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a worthy – and in parts more successful – follow-up to an already enjoyable original. Yet, while fans of Rise will no doubt enjoy Dawn even more, those who weren’t won over by Wyatt’s effort will perhaps struggle to find much more to enjoy in Reeves’. On its own merits however, Dawn has an effective and powerfully drawn story, a superb cast, some of the best animation in the business and easily one of the best orchestral scores since the last time Giacchino got out of bed. As surprisingly a successful film as Rise, Dawn is one of the summer’s big wins.
Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.
Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman