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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves, 2014

After Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a film that despite its flaws focussed steadily on the interactions between humans and apes, and slowly built up to an action set piece finale, I feared that the follow up may have sacrificed certain elements that made it work and opt for a two hour action filled ‘war’ epic between apes and humans. Fortunately, that is far from the case, and I was impressed how Dawn manages to build up the tension slowly but surely, it feels like at any moment – thanks to a couple of ‘hot headed’ character – it could explode.

The plot of the film is simple, a large group of human settlers has sent a small team of people to attempt to fix a dam in an attempt to restore much needed power, however this plan is jeopardised when in a moment of panic one of the team shoots and kills an ape, leading to an uncomfortable stand off between the two species, both are generally hesitant to go to war, with too much at stake for either side.

Then we get to the character of Koba, the reason the movie exists. You have probably heard a lot about him as a villain, or at least seen that infamous World Cup advert with him. He is your typical character for this type of film, you know at any moment he could ruin everything for his tribe, single minded due to his own bad experiences, he lacks the level headed rational of his leader, Caesar. However terrifying his character may be, and believe me he is, it is always frustrating to see such characters purely created for the plot to exist, and thanks to this the story is pretty straightforward and predictable. One could have hoped for a bit more ambition with the overall story.

The story allows for the sort of dilemmas you would expect to occur, to occur. The Planet of the Apes films have always focused on the dark side of humanity, human nature, whether species can work together and so on. This focus unsurprisingly provides the emotional centre point, and it works quite well, largely in part to strong human performances at the front of the film, paired with another great motion capture performance from Andy Serkis. Jason Clarke gives the best human performance as the face of reason for the humans. Alongside him we have Kirk Acevedo as the human equivalent to Koba, only there to cause problems, and then there is Gary Oldman who is exactly as you would expect him to be, overacting, screaming battle cries, but in such a film it is to be expected, and he is good at what he does.

The third act, whilst filled with impressive battle scenes, seemed a bit convoluted. I did not really understand the final scene with Oldman’s character, and the build up and confrontation with Koba seemed to take a while to happen. I must say that the film underwhelmed me slightly in an emotional sense, perhaps because of the focus on violence and predictable battle scenes. In the first one there are many touching moments, but I could not point to a certain moment in this film where I could say, “That is the part where you would start tearing up”.

As far as blockbusters go, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a triumph in terms of special effects, and for what it wants to achieve, it does so pretty well. The story works within itself, but does not really do much overall in terms of the series. The sets are well designed, with the home of the Apes particularly memorable, the film has little details that help us evoke the original Planet of the Apes, and I am interested in if they plan on doing a same-story-new-technology remake of the original. Whilst I was perhaps a little underwhelmed, there is no denying that as a blockbuster affair, the film is strong, and the majority of people will go away more than happy and getting what they hoped for.