Friday, 18 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

When Rupert Wyatt walked from the sequel after successfully rebooting the franchise, the studio were looking to get a director in quickly to start production. Matt Reeves met with the studio and producers where they told him what story they were thinking of doing. Unlike many other directors, he didn’t argue his case, he simply said “Oh, no thank you then” before going to leave. They stopped him to ask why. He said that if he were to do a story it would be important to focus on Caesar and the emotional core of the first film; he began talking about the film he would do which was far away from the film they wanted to do. Much to his surprise, they said OK and Matt Reeves directed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Does it deliver on his premise of keeping it emotional and centred around Caesar? You’re damn right it does.

Dawn opens with mandatory world building exposition but that is no way a criticism. They cleverly use a CGI spinning world to show how the Simian Flu has spread across the globe, along with news items from the countries that it’s currently showing, before diminishing into a well-timed darkness. Ten years after the ALZ-113 virus (Simian Flu) has caused the downfall of civilisation, we open in 2026 where Caesar leads a village of apes outside of San Francisco. When all seems peaceful in this living, all is about to change when the apes accidentally encounter some humans who are both as afraid of each other. Their worlds are about to collide by the simple few that ruin it for the many – a sad truth for humanity as a whole.

All of the Apes films are filled with subtext about various things. Racism is touched upon here through a disgusting character called Carver, the film seems to explore everything from the Gaza Strip to – as you’d expect – animal testing. That’s where Koba (played unbelievably well by Toby Kebbell, one of the most underrated and underused actors currently working) comes in. He is the closest thing we will see to a villain. After suffering the unrelenting torture of animal testing, Koba refuses to forgive humanity after seeing only its ugly side. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the leader with a mistrust of humanity as well but he saw the goodness within it too, allowing him to sympathise with the human colony in San Francisco. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is the human equivalent to Koba but less extreme, seeing only uncivilised animals, forgetting where we came from. Needless to say, stuff goes down.

Where the power of Reeves’s fantastically visceral Rise sequel comes from is the mo-capped actors, fully dedicating themselves to their roles that could easily have been stunted or hard to play seriously. Andy Serkis – like in Rise - can strike a chord from an understated expression brought to life by WETA’s impressive effects. Where Koba can draw sympathy but is ultimately going too far, Caesar remains the level-headed leader who tries to (re)build the Golden Gate Bridge between enemies who are more similar than they admit. Ultimately, the Simian gang get a lot more character to chew on which is one of Dawn’s only downfalls. Many wondered how well Jason Clarke would do in a lead role, a surprising choice to lead the summer blockbuster, but he does all that he can with the part – one look in particular as he bites down on tape is so superbly understated, astonishingly simple, that its brilliance needs to be mentioned. Jason Clare is where humanity runs out. Gary Oldman gets a moment. Kodi Smit-McPhee gets a moment. Keri Russell doesn’t really get a moment. These moments don’t amount to enough of a character to rival their ape counterparts.

That being said, it is one of the only errors in a stellar film. Matt Reeves has a talent for bringing reality to sci-fi and the fantastical, as in his previous work Cloverfield and Let Me In. He brings the dystopian future to life by having nature to reclaim the majority of San Francisco, building the apes an impressive village, giving them life through sign language, allowing simple characteristics to define them. The director’s sheer trust in the audience is brave by having long takes even in small intimate moments; there is a long spinning shot on a tank turret that shows how you can integrate personality into a blockbuster without skimping on action nor tension. All of the action within the film is gripping too, never feeling dull or overdone, not falling into the territory that has been labelled “destruction porn” as of late either.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does what sequels forget to do when trying to copy the successes of the first film. It manages to make the film grander, increasing it in scope, without forgetting to pay attention to the emotions or the small moments that made the first film. Caesar was touching in the first film, bringing heartbreak before the cataclysmic finale; Dawn captures the emotions by wrapping it around the action in a well-paced tragedy, of sorts. Let’s not forget Michael Giacchino’s magnificent score either. It sweeps you into every single moment of the film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a dystopian, sci-fi, western that seamlessly blends the genres like it blends being a blockbuster and a small indie drama about family. With apes. And guns. It really is a brilliant follow-up to the surprising reboot that has brought life into the franchise. It was broken, now it’s exciting.