Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014)
People don’t believe me but this was actually good! Do not let the shittiness of Transformers cloud your judgment – action movies can occasionally be decent. I even shed a tear in this one. For apes. Apes with guns… who ride horses… and talk. I guess it sounds pretty bad, but I AM TELLING YOU it was magnificent! Minus the humans.
I haven’t seen the original films where they just got humans to dress in monkey suits and to be honest, the original ‘classic’ looks pretty heinous, minus the final scene. It’s amazing how far cinema has come since the 1960s… or even 2001 because Tim Burton’s remake was apparently pretty awful – and STILL it had humans in monkey suits. Puh-lease, Tim. We’re not fooled. The most recent reboot was kicked off in 2012 with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and if you haven’t seen that one, I recommend you check it out before seeing Dawn. That film ended —SPOILER ALERT— with the genetically-modified apes having escaped captivity, with a deadly virus about to breakout worldwide among the human race. In Dawn, the human race has shrivelled to an alarming low, with the citizens of San Francisco unable to make contact with any outsiders due to low power supplies. A few humans (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee among them) visit the apes’ forest where they require access to a renewable energy source, but the apes aren’t having any of that shit. However, it is the king of the apes, Caesar, who ultimately has the final say.
The best thing about this film is its message about the senselessness of war. Just as in a war between two nations, here we have two sides battling as a result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, a power-hungry leader uniting a pack against a perceived enemy, individuals turning against their own, and people (and apes) just generally being dicks. When Blue Eyes tells his father, “Fear makes others follow”, it really tugged at the heartstrings. And it wasn’t just because his eyes were really blue…
The apes finally look real! Thanks to the magic of CGI and performance capture, they look awesome. Andy Serkis, a.k.a. Gollum, a.k.a. Kong, is in fine form as Caesar. But I couldn’t help but be most touched by Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes, who was played by Nick Thurston. For some reason I kept thinking his name was Sid. Is that because there’s an actor in Grease called Sid Caesar? Because that was a random connection to make. But I digress… While the apes were great, the humans were mostly pretty ordinary, with the exception of Gary Oldman who is always terrific. Other than him it was just your usual stock-standard mediocre action movie cast. There’s a reason we haven’t seen much of Keri Russell since Felicity, and that’s because she has as much expression as a sock.
Despite the meh-ness of the humans, I never really found myself rooting for a particular side, which is a credit to the film. Both sides have their flaws and neither are truly villainous. There is one psycho ape but he has his reasons.
A solid score by Lost’s Michael Giacchino and a barrage of special effects, not least which includes the performance capture, boost this film even higher. This is not your average blockbuster crap. It is easily the best action film of the year to date.