Apes R Us
I’m probably one of the few people who liked Tim Burton’s version of “Planet of the Apes” (2001) but I’d readily admit that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) was much better. This last film ended on a somewhat portentous note, which I thought would easily pave the way for the next movie. However, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” took a surprising turn. Instead of going for the previous film’s cautionary tale of tampering with nature, this new film shows us a full-on war drama that deftly punctuates violent acts with moments of philosophical pondering on the human condition.
The film is set 10 years after the events of the first film. A significant percentage of humans have been wiped out by the Simian Flu virus pandemic. The apes, meanwhile, are thriving in the woods beyond the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Neither if aware of each other’s existence until a group of humans fatally encounter the apes. The group dared to encroach upon ape territory because they wanted to generate power for the survivors eking a life in the city. At first, Caesar (Andy Serkis) responds to the diplomatic approach of Malcolm (Jason Clarke), to the dismay of Koba (Toby Kebbel)–the human-hating ape.
However, this fragile truce is broken when it is revealed that one of Malcom’s party has violated the “no guns” term of the truce, and all hell breaks loose. Koba finds the impetus to launch his own movement against the humans. At this point in the story, blame for the mayhem is pretty much equally shared by the humans and the apes as individual agendas get blown out of proportion and as both are able to inflict violence upon each other with guns and firepower. The scenes depicting this are breath-taking, especially the part when the apes decided to put the captured humans in cages. Tim Burton’s version showed a similar sequence but the one in this film was more resonant.
Through the simian characters, we are able to reflect on our societies as we react, cope, and deal with internal dissent and external conflicts. Through Caesar, we see the burdens that leadership imposes on an individual. When his decisions became unpopular, his own son began to doubt him as well. We see how a delicate balance must be maintained for two communities with little trust between them to be able to at least co-exist. We see how, as a community, each member must also learn to balance one’s own interests with that of the group for the community to function as it should.
Caesar even undergoes some kind of an epiphany, when he says, “I always think ape better than human. I see now how like them we are.”
With this film, is it any wonder that the human cast seem to pale in comparison to the simian cast? Felicity (Keri Russell) and the ever-reliable Gary Oldman are here and yet all of my attention went to Caesar, Koba, and Maurice. Of course we have the great visual effects team to be thankful for this. And of course the exemplary motion capture performances of the simian characters, without them the visual effects people will have nothing to work with. Jason Clarke provides an everyday man charm to his character, and we feel his innate goodness. As Caesar himself said, “He (referring to Will, played by James Franco in the first film) was a good man. Like you.”
The production design was outstanding as well. The fort of the apes, with Caesar’s tree house as the centerpiece was natural and modern at the same time while the San Francisco sets looked like the lived-in counterpart of the New York in “I Am Legend” (2007). When the credits rolled, I realized that Matt Reeves was the director. He who turned the monster movie on its head with “Cloverfield” (2008) and gave us the graceful adaptation of the unsettling “Let Me In” (2010). I say he’s getting better with each new film.
My recommendation? Watch it!
Posted on July 13, 2014, in review and tagged Andy Serkis, Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Let Me In, Matt Reeves, Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tim Burton. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.