Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - One Movie, Three Reviews
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second installment into the reboot of a sci-fi classic was released today. Set 10 years after the events of the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the movie follows the desperate survivors of a devastating pandemic that has wiped out vast swathes of humanity. As the humans come face to face with Caesar and his rapidly-evolving camp of simians, tensions run high as each species grapples with trust.
Three of the Outer Places team watched Matt Reeves's efforts and are here to give their opinion on whether or not this will be the movie to get the summer blockbuster season back on track.
Let me start by saying that I have never really been a big 'Planet of the Apes' fan, nor am I generally a fan of reboots. With muted expectations in place, I was pleasantly surprised by the time the end credits started rolling. Not that it's a particularly high benchmark, but I would comfortably say that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best blockbuster movie of the Summer so far. Yes, it played on the stupidity of human nature to an almost patronising level, but said humans are merely the supporting cast in this show, a fact that made room for other elements of the movie to truly shine. Andy Serkis and his army of motion capture actors deserve all the plaudits they will inevitably get for their performances in this movie. Through Serkis in arguably his greatest performance to date, and the brilliance of Weta (the visual effects studio responsible for Caesar and co.), we are treated to an entertaining exploration of human flaws by virtue of witnessing the evolution of another species. The interaction and limited dialogue between the apes in Caesar's camp is captivating in its simplicity, but add to that the development of three brilliant characters in the form of Caesar, Maurice the Orangutan and Koba, and it becomes a truly unique viewing experience.
Director Matt Reeves deserves credit for making the bold decision to ditch green screens for real life set locations,which helped to make the film feel terrifyingly real. Honestly, I cannot give the team behind the visuals of this movie enough plaudits, it was truly spectacular. However, the feast for the eyes was sometimes undone by the occasional blockbuster indulgence. A somewhat stereotypical and painfully predictable climax bordered on irksome, but it was certainly not enough to leave a bad impression.
All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a unique summer viewing experience that provides the opportunity for multiple interpretations on social issues ranging from gun control to border conflicts. Indeed, one wouldn't expect to find social commentary in a movie such as this, and while it was brandished clumsily at times, it was rather refreshing. However this picture will inevitably be remembered for a performance by a man who appears to be on the fast track to Hollywood greatness...Andy Serkis. Not convinced? The closing shot of the movie should be enough to change your mind.
It's great in that it's incredibly well shot. Not to mention the totally unprecedented use of CGI, the pure scope of outdoor scenes — especially those across the Golden Gate in the post-apocalyptic Marin County, aka 'Ape territory' — was a visual treat that went well above and beyond any expectations. Caesar's new home - teased in the last few minutes of 'Rise' - becomes the fantastical forested kingdom setting that frames the majority of the film's scenes. The rugged and wild, cliffy nature juxtaposed to it's vistas of a post-apocalyptic city across the bay will send chills down your spine. And although I might be slightly partial as a Northern California native, for me, it's this setting that made the movie what it is, which is 'great'.
The shots of overgrown apocalyptic San Francisco streets were a whole nother thing. The reassembled city of human survivors is so believable (at least visually) that the somewhat cheesy and overly-predictable performances of minor human roles almost go unnoticed. Also, off the record, the bromance was kinda beautiful. I'm probably just a sucker for this kind of sappy "brother" stuff, but nobody can deny that even as a CGI'd Ape, Andy Serkis emitted more pathos than any bro has yet to emit. And on another totally idiosyncratic note, the overarchingly maudlin screenplay actually enhanced my film viewing experience... adding some much appreciated humor to the otherwise intense blockbuster. So if you're looking for a fun, thrilling, and beautiful high-budget blockbuster— filled with "eye-candy", "earth-porn" or what have you— then you won't be disappointed.
If all you're expecting is a fun, exciting, well-made blockbuster, then you surely won't be disappointed. But there was a lot of squandered potential considering that the premise is rife with opportunities for meaningful social commentary. It tiptoes around the parallels between the conflict presented in the film and real-life social conflicts, such as tensions between Israel and Palestine or the still-rampant racism in American culture, but ultimately either declines to comment on or offensively oversimplifies the issues. For example, the beginning flirts with depicting a nuanced conflict between the humans and apes that is reminiscent of Israel/Palestine; they're threatened by the communities' proximity to each other, they mistrust each other as a result of conflicts with which the people/apes in question were not really involved, they consistently view the other community as profoundly "other," etc. But then the film becomes a regular old silly blockbuster when (spoiler!) the event that causes the all-out war boils the conflict down to a sitcom-level misunderstanding. It doesn't help that the film is so human-centric; one can easily judge the level of evilness of each ape by discerning how "human" it looks.
The film claims to preach tolerance, but it judges the "goodness" of the apes based on their similarity to humans and their sympathy towards the human characters. It could have challenged our notions of "humans as good guys" by truly sympathizing with the plight of the apes and understanding their hatred for the race that put them in cages and experimented on them (even when the humans are as likable as Keri Russell), but it chose not to. The annoyingly clunky title doesn't help either, but I easily could have gotten past that one if the film had aspired to be more than a good-looking and well-acted popcorn movie.