DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT
Film great. Humans crap.
In my last review I compared going to the cinema like going to a restaurant. For this review I am going to use another tenuous analogy and say going to the cinema is my equivalent of going to Church. The director/writer/filmmakers are in my eyes GOD! The actors are the Priests spreading the word while the popcorn is the body of Christ with Tango or Coca-Cola as the blood. Not that I drink fizzy drinks or sugary any more as I am currently winning an ongoing dispute between my will power and several unhealthy food addictions.
Anyway, what I’m saying is the Cinema is my holy sanctuary — it means THAT much to me. So if you want to use your phone (texting or going online) or talk about something on your phone such as the latest photo of your own arsehole then I will strike down upon thee with furious vengeance! Well I will ask you to shut up or get out!
In the war between humans’ and apes I was already on the Apes’ side following the excellent blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and even more so after witnessing its’ superlative sequel. Indeed, with the insane ongoing wars, environmental issues, pollution, fracking, plane crashes, arms dealing, dodgy press, corrupt governments, genocide and other disasters such as selfish phone wankers talking at the cinema perhaps it’s time for a change on Earth; a clean slate maybe? Maybe the apes and other animals deserve a chance of owning this planet and giving peace a chance; something humanity seems incapable of sustaining.
If you didn’t know the Planet of the Apes franchise originated from Pierre Boulle’s wonderfully conceived 1963 novel La Planete des singes and spawned a plethora of films, merchandise, TV shows, comics, novelisations, comic books, posters and even an animated series. In the late 60s and 70s they didn’t just milk the cash cow they drained the blood and sold off its’ organs and body parts to an ever hungry audience thirsty for another instalment.
Irrespective of the sloping quality of the various guises it took the intelligence raised in the original source and gave us some serious action and brain-food encompassing themes and historical events such as: Darwinism; dystopic and apocalyptic future visions; civil and social unrest; slavery; man’s inhumanity to animals; medical experimentation; the Vietnam and Cold war; civilisation versus savagery; anthropology; The Frankenstein myth; space and time travel; and many other socio-political and science fictional motifs. It’s a conceptual and cultural phenomenon. And Dawn of the Planet is a wonderful addition to the series.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins a few years AFTER Caesar led the apes’ escape from captivity depicted so entertainingly in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He, his wife and children are now living in reasonable harmony in a huge commune of orang-u-tan, gorillas and chimpanzees. As suggested at the end of the first movie humans have succumbed to a virus which has wiped them off the planet leaving only those with vascular immunity still alive. These are lead by family man Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus; a man — who like many others — has lost his family to the virus and subsequent societal breakdown. The dramatic meat of the story begins to cook when the apes are disturbed by a party of humans looking for a new energy source via a Dam in the forest.
The film is a real slow-burner as it establishes the rivalry between the apes and humans as they initially form an uneasy truce before outright war eventually begins. Indeed the first hour or so is very much given to establishing character dynamics with Caesar’s (phenomenal Andy Serkis) leadership of the apes questioned by the scarred Koba (brilliant Toby Kebbell). This too is reflected in the more peaceful Malcolm seeking to avoid war and co-exist with the apes as opposed to Dreyfus who sees them as nothing more than savage beasts. Thus the four main protagonists are very rounded and keenly drawn although one criticism of the film is the lack of a powerful female character and one may say, Oldman aside, the humans are a little bland overall. An accusation I cannot say about the apes who are rendered incredibly by the massive special effect team at WETA.
By allowing the slow build up characters, spiked by some in-fighting in each of the camps, the tension rises and anticipation of the battle rises to fever pitch. It is Koba who precipitates the war as he is driven by his anger at being experimented on by humans’ years before. While Caesar leads with majesty and quiet authority, Koba is driven by revenge, pain and hate and this passion drives him to attack the humans with full ape force. What follows is one of the most memorable set-pieces I have seen at the cinema this year with apes smashing down the human compound with violent abandon. The image of a dual-gunned Koba rampaging on horseback as fire burns behind him is a cinematic moment which will stay in my memory for sometime.
Matt Reeves is an excellent genre filmmaker and he maintains the great standard set by Rupert Wyatt from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, the writers, cast and his battalion of special effects people have produced an intelligent blockbuster which keeps the drama burning throughout culminating in a stupendous battle sequence at the end. The film is a portent telling us once again that humans will reap suffering if they continue to tamper with nature in the name of progress. It also reflects the importance of family, acceptance and tolerance of others in order find peace; war and in particular gorilla warfare (sorry) is not the way forward. There’s one soppy and jarring bit of script coincidence where Caesar goes back to the house he grew up in but that was not enough to ruin another excellent film inspired by Boulle’s literary classic. Those still haunted by Tim Burton’s atrocious 2001 effort will be very grateful for this entry in the franchise. Altogether now: Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!