A really hard movie to review, it was a toss up between 3.5 and 4 stars, eventually I ‘swung’ towards 4. Get it, swung? Ape puns. ‘Dawn’ improves on the good but fairly uninspiring ‘Rise’ and is a good movie in its own right, but the development over the series is shaping up to be the most impressive aspect of this weird franchise.
After 8 years of war and the Simean flu wiping out most of the human population, Caesar (Andy Serkis) now leads the apes who have set up a civilisation, teaching each other to read and write. When they stumble upon a desperate group of humans in search of electricity led by Malcolm (Jason Clark) and Dreyfuss (Gary Oldman), tense political rumblings between ape and man begin, with usurpers and mutiny galore.
The performances are all pretty expected, acceptable. I’m growing a little tired of Gary Oldman wasting his unreal acting skills on playing the same kind of guy no one loves or hates in every movie, (this, Robocop etc…) Clark is good as he parallels Serkis’ Caesar, but it is Serkis who steals the show. If ever an Oscar should be won for a motion capture performance, Serkis has it. He embodies a tricky combination of both ape and human expressions and mannerisms, particularly his face, always showing a complex set of emotions. Likewise, Toby Kebbell does a great job as Koba, bringing through a thrillingly evil performance in both mannerisms, voice and face. Koba is a villain, for a change, I intensely despised, with Caesar a hero I was strongly emotionally invested in.
Who knew a film about talking monkeys could be so complex? This is why ‘Dawn’ is good. Director Matt Reeves is very clear in his intentions to draw the similarities of human and ape (Malcolm and Caesar, Carver and Koba) to show both the good and bad, the virtues and faults of both races. What this does is create intense emotion, no one wants war except minorities in either side. No one in the audience want war either, I was strongly against any ape or human, both trying to just pave their way in life, getting harmed. But, gloriously realistically, Reeves plummets the course of the movie into that inevitable direction with a complicated political dilemma of past human cruelty against hunt or be hunted. Yeah, complex.
A lot of the film actually dwells on the apes and humans bonding which makes for several beautiful scenes with a quietly passionate score from Michael Giacchino, including some throw backs to James Franco in the first movie. Though, in the end, this proves to be good establishment of the final act and successfully tense pacing, after one hour I found myself growing bored and thinking ‘when the fuck are we going to see some real fighting?’ That said, the growing tensions between Koba and Caesar promised an explosion from the building pressure which kept me hooked throughout and that promise was fully realised. The final act pushed this from 3.5 to 4 stars. Not only an all out war, but also one of the best one on one fights I’ve ever seen. I always route for one on one fights (Man of Steel with potentially the best ever) and the use of the environment in particular during this battle was exciting, exhilarating but most importantly, unlike anything I can remember seeing in the cinema and brings the full movie into a tragically fitting close.
On a slight downer, the CGI is very convincing, but after large chunks of only CGI apes on the screen and reading too many subtitles, I couldn’t help but feel a little distanced from the actual primates some times.
That being said, the good largely outweighs the bad and Reeves makes the conflict throughout the movie so upsetting by taking enough time to establish the three dimensions of both the races; the Apes become fully believable here, which is some achievement since they talk. The development of not only their language but also their emotions is shaping up finely for the final instalment, when watched altogether it will make for some viewing.
Thrilling, tense and often difficult to watch, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes improves on its predecessor. The dawn of a fantastic trilogy.