Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Dir: Matt Reeves
Academy Award Nomination: Visual Effects.
After directing the surprisingly successful franchise reboot ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ in 2011, director Rupert Wyatt left helming the sequel as he didn’t believe it would be possible to do it justice in the amount of time he was given. Really then, replacement director Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield’) has done a fantastic job with this!
Ten years after the events of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, the Simian flu has devastated the human population, causing the collapse of modern society resulting in the forming of small enclaves of the population who were immune. One such enclave is located not far from Caesar’s colony of apes in San Francisco, and when the two groups meet, they must work out a peaceful arrangement, though they have the threat of war exacerbated by less peaceable factions within each camp.
Rather than continuing the saga with a human protagonist this film very clearly puts the main focus on Caesar (King of performance capture Andy Serkis) who is the constant element between the two films. Though a decade has passed between them,the films are strongly linked though distinctly different, not just because of a new directorial style, but the setting, different forms of conflict and a different focus. All these elements makes this film stand distinctly apart from its predecessor which I think is quite nice, it really helps show the progression of the situation towards what was seen in the original ‘Planet of the Apes‘ in 1968.
It’s quite interesting how we know essentially where this is all leading, but this storyline isn’t looking at the ape uprising on a global scale, and though the widespread effects are explained it maintains a far more specific focus with Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and just the humans that are closest to his home. There are parallels that can be drawn between the apes and the humans, though both camps stand apart and clearly different the protagonists we see in the film are both fathers with families, interested not in war but in protecting their sons and species.
Throughout the film the mix of human actors (including Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman) and captured performances is done very well, the apes themselves are incredibly realistic, finding a nice balance between convincingly looking like the animals we see in the zoo or on nature programmes, and the expressive faces and complex sign language that help to convey the communication required for the story. The locations have also been wonderfully rendered to give both camps distinctive settings.
The effects are incredible, but they really should start getting awards for the actors not just the effects as the actors doing the motion capture performances do a fantastic job in conveying so much expression while still being convincing as primates. While they talk and sign you’re still able to suspend disbelief in thinking that they are apes, and it draws the viewer into the developing drama, with tensions between Caesar and ape rebel Koba (Toby Kebbell) being really well developed thanks to clearly fantastic underlying performances from Serkis and Kebbell underneath all the techno-wizardry. There are also softer moments with Caesar’s family, especially his relationship with wife (Judy Greer) and sons that are really emotionally effective and prove just how well-balanced the effects and performances are. Still, there are a few moments in which there are so many apes on the screen doing things like shooting guns and riding horses that it feels a little effects-laden, but at the same time these are potentially powerful scenes, so it would depend on the individual viewer and how well the film was working on them as to whether they find moments like that effective or distancing.
Imagine what might have been the result if Rupert Wyatt had stayed on and been given the amount of time he required, I expect it would have been a very different film to this one, possibly less distinctive, no doubt also excellent. I really hope Wyatt hasn’t made a disastrous mistake leaving this, as his next film is a remake of ‘The Gambler’ with Mark Whalberg.
It will be interesting to see what the next phase in this development will be, I expect it will be another huge leap forwards to the apes having the upper hand, but this time Matt Reeves is (at the time of writing this) still signed on to direct with a release aimed for 2017. I hope the next film will have its own distinct identity as ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ have had, and really continue to eradicate the bad memories of Tim Burton’s failed attempt to reboot this franchise back in 2000.