Thursday, 17 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Review



Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Running Time: 130mins
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa. Novel by: Pierre Boulle
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Tobby Kebbell, Nick Thruston
Language: English, Apes 

It upsetting to think that Andy Serkis will probably not even get an Oscar nomination, let alone an Oscar, unless he sheds his CGI suit and does what Hollywood refers to as "serious acting", meaning some kind of tragic character overcoming obstacles. When it comes to Serkis, it is particularly frustrating, because the message Hollywood sends is that it is all about the CGI and nothing to do with the actor, a misconception that is easy to accept if one is not that interested in the process of motion capture. Anyone who has seen Serkis without his hi-tech apparel, as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll for example, or as William Hare, having excellent banter with Simon Peg in Burke and Hare, knows that when Serkis is on the screen he owns it. When it comes to CGI Serkis creates the characters he portrays just as much as the computer geniuses do and he has an aptitude for large monkeys.  

And Andy Serkis is not even the best thing about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. From the opening part, which both resonates but at the same time quite differes from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s opening, there is an oppressively foreboding tone to the film and for a little while it feels as if the planet is already the Apes’ The dark visual style of the film only reinforces this post-apocalyptic grim.

In the survival-of-the-fittest kind of world Matt Reeves and the writers, Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, create most humans are dead from a deadly virus unleashed a decade earlier. Those who survived have a certain gene that makes them immune to the virus, which made me wonder if they share a gene with the apes. Caesar is now the leader of a growing, genetically evolved apes' community in the outskirts of San Francisco. The first time in many months the apes meet human, one of them gets shot and the slippery slope towards the inevitable begins. The humans need to work in the dam that is located in ape territory so they can contact other survivors and try and rebuild their society. Despite the shooting incident, Caesar agrees to let the human work in the dam and a fragile and temporary peace is achieved, but there are naysayers on both sides and soon things escalate to the point of no return.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes offers a complex conflict and quite a few layers of narrative. Human v Apes is only part of the problem. There is a division within the human and a division within the apes and the opposition from both sides is compelling.With moving subtlety and command, Gary Oldman conveys the fear and desperation that lead Dreyfus to his devastating final act of destruction that brings about the point of no return. On the other side of the fence, Koba, one of the apes Caesar has freed in the first film, carries the physical and emotional scars of humans' abuse and worries that Caesar prefers human over apes. And so challenges Caesar's position as the alpha male at every opportunity. There is something painful and endearing about Koba and pleas for forgiveness after every time he is defeated and the fury that grows with every plea.

Toby Kebbell, who plays Koba, measures up to Serkis level of CGI acting as are all the lead Apes. Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), whose rebellious silence speaks volume, was a revelation and he won me over completely. The emotional expressions, the language and the riding of horses may humanise the apes, which makes them more relatable to us human viewers, but it is the brilliant ape-like acting that astonished and moved this particular human viewer. It is the little simian details of body languages and gestures that made the apes’ acting perfect for me.

Not that the humans had anything to be ashamed of, Jason Clarke brings roughness and brilliant intensity to Malcolm that James Franco's Will Rodman lacked in my view. Malcolm echoes Charlton Heston's character from the first Planet of the Apes, George Taylor, it is almost as if Malcolm is George Taylor at the end of the first film. However, In the end, contrary to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it is the Apes' story this time and there are a lot more of them and a lot less humans.

Until Christopher Nolan's Interstellar comes out, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is my favourite film of the year. It is an incredibly sad film, not the tear-jerker type of sadness that comes with death or suffering of a loved character, Dawn's sadness is there right from the start and throughout the film and it lingers and it is onerous and I want to see it again and I can’t wait to see the next one.     

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in cinemas July 17th in the UK 


  1. Aya,

    Well written, and I completely agree with your assessment. I was blown away by the actors' performances as apes. However, don't you think you should credit those actors? You mention Andy Serkis (of course), and Toby Kebbell as Koba, but no mention of the actor who plays "Blue Eyes"? This young man (Nick Thurston) was brilliant, and actually my favorite of the whole bunch.

    1. Hello and thank you for stopping by.

      Yes you're right, I did say Blue Eyes was a revelation. He was amazing! I did put the actor's name above at the starring, but perhaps you're right I shall add his name next to the name of his character. I agree, he was my favourite as well.