Dawn Of the Planet of the Apes (****)
Running time: 130 minutes
Directed by Mat Reeves
Starring – Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell, Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell
MICHAEL Bay should take note because this is how a summer blockbuster should be done; Mat Reeves’ follow-up to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) has all the stunning visual effects you’d expect from a big-budget theatrical release, but unlike Bay’s recently released fourth entry in the Transformers series, Dawn of The Planet of Apes doesn’t sacrifice it’s IQ levels as it ramps up the action.
Reeves takes over directorial duties from Rupert Wyatt on a sequel which is much more ape-centric than it’s predecessor, with it’s human cast members largely playing second-fiddle to their mo-capped CGI counterparts. The film’s narrative much more focused on the ape’s burgeoning community, focusing on the changing relationships and emerging rivalries within the group.
After a brief recap of the previous film’s events through the opening titles, the narrative picks up ten years after viewers last saw Caesar and his fellow simians seeking refuge in the woods near San Francisco. Living in relative peace and isolation believing that the last of humanity is now extinct as a result of the simian flu virus that engulfed the globe, but when they meet a small group of virus resistant humans desperately trying to survive, old-hatreds re-emerge. Both sides struggle to keep a fragile peace from spilling into a bloody conflict, as tensions on both sides quickly escalate.
Visually the film has clear nods to Francis Lawrence’s underwhelming 2007 feature I Am Legend and even Naughty Dog’s fantastic video game The Last of Us, Michael Seresin’s stylish cinematography is accompanied beautifully by Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score. However the decision to shoot the film in 3D seems a strange one, it’s a first for the franchise and the effects add very little to the overall viewing experience.
The motion capture technology used for the film’s simian stars is simply breath-taking, the decision to allow the Mo-Cap artists onset with their fellow actors really pays off onscreen. Both Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell do fantastic jobs in their respect roles as Caesar and Koba, with enough backstabbing and betrayal between the two to rival any classic Shakespearian play.
Sadly the film lacks a truly engaging human character; Jason Clarke’s character Malcom felt a little weak and underwritten when compared to Franco’s character from the previous instalment. Kerri Russell isn’t given very much to do onscreen throughout the feature, nor Gary Oldman’s character Dreyfus, the leader of the human resistance.
The problem for any prequel is that it’s narrative must retain the interest of older viewers who know where the story is going, but still be accessible enough for viewers newer to the franchise. George Lucas’ underwhelming attempt within the Star Wars franchise are the text-book examples of how not to do a prequel within an established series, but RISOPTA was an intelligent, well-written feature that was both a great jumping on point for newer viewers, but also respected the mythology and legacy of Franklin J. Schaffner’s original feature.
DOTPOTA continues in a similar vein, focusing heavily on the individuals both simian and human caught up within the situation. The writers aren’t afraid to spend the time to develop those characters throughout the film’s two hour runtime, but that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t deliver on the action front.
There’s an array of fantastic special effects and stunning set-pieces throughout the film to rival any big-budget theatrical release this year, but in stark comparison to Michael Bay’s recently released Transformers: Age of Extinction viewers actually care about those individuals caught up within the action. So often summer blockbusters like Bay’s offer only wafer-thin characterization in favour of all out action, but it’s nice to see a feature bucking the trend.
Whilst DOTPOA might not be everyone’s cup of tea it’s exactly the kind of film I enjoy seeing at the cinema, a well done intelligent Sci-Fi blockbuster that doesn’t aim for the lowest viewing demographic and treats its viewers with a certain degree of intelligence. I’d far rather pay to see this kind of film any day of the week, rather than having to endure Michael Bay’s near three-hour ‘crash-bang-wallop-repeat’ bore fest.
Review by William McClean