movie review: dawn of the planet of the apes – movie of the year?

apes

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is the follow on to 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes which starred James Franco and first introduced us to Andy Serkis as Caeser.  This installment it is directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) with Andy Serkis reprising his role as the leader of the apes.  He is joined by Tony Kebbell (to be seen in the upcoming Fantastic Four) as his right hand ape Koba and Jason Clark (Zero Dark Thirty) as his moral counterpart Malcolm living in the human community

This movie is set ten years later following the outbreak of a simian flu strain related back to the experiments that took place in Mr Franco’s lab.  The illness has devastated the Human race and those remaining live in isolated pockets with limited resources.  There are two distinct communities, the apes and the humans, one living in the woods and the other in a gated community in the heart of what is left of San Francisco.  The story follows what happens when the two communities come into contact for the first time in two years.

The most striking aspect of the movie for me was the effort it went to, to create two communities that were a mirror image of each other. Caeser and Malcolm are the moral leaders, they both have families, they both have issues with their sons and face the challenge of keeping the peace.  Koba and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are the antagonists within each camp and appear intent on striking first in the looming conflict.  Hell, even the opening and closing shots of the movie focus on the intense stare of Caeser.

The effect of this device is that it allows the viewer to see both sides of the story.  Each community has reason to be fearful of the other, they share the same dreams and fears and more importantly they share the same weaknesses.  Even Koba and Dreyfus are not the two dimensional villains they might appear to be.  Through the movie we see what motivations are driving them – in a striking scene Koba reminds Caeser of the wounds that were inflicted on him by human scientists.  In another scene Dreyfus looks at a photo of the family we presume he lost as a result of the flu pandemic.

While much effort is given to establish each community the clear star is Caeser and the performance given by Andy Serkis.  You can see the raw emotion and the anguish his character feels as he fears for his family while living up to his responsibilities as leader.  It is worth mentioning at this stage that the motion capture in the movie is close to faultless and the fact that I can describe Caeser’s emotions so clearly is testament to that.

I have heard and read some criticism that most of the rest of the characters were pretty shallow in comparison to Caeser but generally I think that is harsh.  You would have to have a running time of three hours plus to try and flash out the character of every single protagonist.

Where there is a clear failure in the movie is the lack of a strong female character.  Keri Russell (Dark Skies) plays Malcolm’s partner / wife and does well with what she is given but she spends most of the time stood in the background.  I thought we might have seen more from Caeser’s mate / wife but she is given nothing to do – I expected he would have hooked up with a similarly strong minded individual but we are left guessing.

Overall this is a visually striking, triumphant piece of film making and the good news is that Matt Reeves will be directing the next installment.  I think I might be going back to give it a second viewing.

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