Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Review

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2011’s Rupert Wyatt directed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a smash-hit both commercially and critically and re-launched the “Apes” franchise with a shotgun blast, introducing it to a new audience whilst simultaneously returning it to the hearts of existing fans. I loved “Rise…” and was excited about the release of “Dawn…” the sequel. Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), the World was ready to meet back up with Ceaser and see what was going on in the planet of the apes.

This sequel picks up ten years after we saw Ceaser and his ape-brethren escape into the woods outside San Francisco to seek sanctuary. We learn that the majority of the human population of Earth has been wiped out by the ALZ-113 virus which on the flip-side of the coin has helped in the continued evolution of the ape populace. Humans are in small number and those that have survived are struggling to remain alive and functional due to the lack of power at their disposal. A small number of humans come across the large ape colony, led by Ceaser, while looking for a way to power their city and when they find they have little alternative, they ask the apes to allow them into their home in order to activate the power feed that their settlement sits atop of. Amidst each group of both humans and apes, though, exists disagreement that the two sides should work together and the tension between humans and apes rises as devastating circumstances arrive due to the behaviour and distrust between the two species, species that have more similarities than they initially believed.

I don’t want to give too much away with the plot because it is thoroughly enjoyable to experience it without prior knowledge of where it’s heading. I will say though, I found this to be even better than the excellent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. Andy Serkis as Ceaser, using the cutting edge motion-capture technology that he helped to both perfect and make famous, is excellent. So much emotion is brought to the movements and face of our lead-ape that you tend to forget you’re even watching CGI. It looks beautiful, and the apes as a whole appear authentic with a depth to their gaze which goes a long way to bringing a mass of life to both the story and the performances within it. On the non-mo-cap side of things we have a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi-Smit McPhee and others, and humans and apes alike do a wonderful job of moving the story to a height in quality that I never expected it to achieve. Clarke did a good job as the kind-hearted human, Malcolm, who tried to gain the trust of the apes while working among them. He’s an actor that I’m fairly unfamiliar with, but feel like he was respectable as one of the leads.

There are so many incredible scenes in this film that I don’t really know where to begin. The action sequences which include battle between the humans and apes, as well as between themselves, are about as entertaining as it gets, but it’s the more subtle of scenes involving the characters. Scenes such as those in which the group of humans, including Malcolm, Ellie (Russell) and Alexander (McPhee), attempt to find common ground and show that they are not a danger to the apes, are moving and some of the strongest moments. There is also a constant tension that something is, for lack of a better term, “about to go down”, which brings that edge-of-your-seat excitement to the film from start to finish. The good parts outweigh any negatives that may exist here, if I’m being honest about my feelings here, but if I’m being picky then I’d perhaps say that the human-side of the coin isn’t really delved into deep enough, and it may have been nice to spend a bit more time in the city, seeing how desperate the human beings are at this point. We do see it to a degree, but perhaps not enough. It is also likely that those adverse to CGI-heavy movies might not find themselves as involved here, but with the quality and strength of the CGI, I really feel like this is one of those occasions where it needs to be celebrated rather than bashed.

I wasn’t expecting a great deal when I went into Rise of the Planet of the Apes and I loved it, and here, with its follow-up I was truly blown away by how good it was. I thought it would be fun, and I thought I’d enjoy it, but this is much more than a summer blockbuster or a popcorn flick. It has heart, it has strong performances and it brings further evidence that it’s about time that the academy, and other awards establishments, start recognising just how bloody important, and truly great, motion capture performances have become. To say I recommend this would be an understatement, it’s awesome. Hail Ceaser.

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