Thursday, 10 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014/US)

Julien Faddoul

* (1 star)

d – Matt Reeves
w – Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback   (Based on the Novel by Pierre Boulle)   
ph – Michael Seresin
pd – James Chinlund
m – Michael Giacchino
ed – William Hoy, Stan Salfas
cos – Melissa Bruning

p – Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place 10 years after the previous incarnation. In the wake of the enormous ape discharge from the Gen-Sys Labs and their rampage through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, the infectious Simian Virus has now exterminated the majority of Earth’s human populace and left the rest desperate to survive in a dystopian world.

Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) group of apes have developed immensely, as well as grown and varied in species. They communicate through a kind of shorthand sign-language, although they at times to speak to one another. Also, they ride horses now.

As with the first film, the apes are a creation born from a mix of computer graphics and “performance-capture” performances. The technique never ceases to fascinate. Actors such as Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston and of course Mr Serkis give wholly natural genuine performances that seem completely unprocessed.

It’s been an extended period since the apes have been in contact with humans. Only a few humans remain and are living locally in a ruined, vegetation-dotted San Francisco accumulating armaments and trying to refurbish electrical power. This struggle spearheads a small company led by an architect whose wife died of the disease,  Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his nurse girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) and his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to find a dam in ape territory. Gary Oldman plays the lawman in charge.

The apes do not stand for this and the inevitable war ensues. The human characters in the film are stock. Director Matt Reeves keeps them in a constant state of queasy impatience – due to not only their fear of the apes but also their shaky awareness of the virus’ symptoms. But I felt that this made the human characters seem even more monotonous than the usual supply-characters one finds in franchise films. The previous film struggled with the same problem, despite that film's director Rupert Wyatt being replaced here by Mr Reeves, whose previous films include Cloverfield (2008) and Let Me In (2010).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has been getting mostly favorable reviews across the board. I find this perplexing. The audience I was in seemed to enjoy themselves fine enough. The film offers nothing new outside its endearing technique. The substantial heart and remorse that runs through the film about man’s relationship with the ape and the perceived racism and/or war that occurs when fear is our optimum reaction has been explored much more cogently in films like Disney’s Tarzan (1999) or even Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) – also played by Mr Serkis.

I can’t help but feel we as audiences are reacting out of a conditioned climate. Big summer movies are hardly even movies anymore and as soon as one comes along with even a hint of soul, it’s refreshing to the point of elation (although I would love to point everyone in the direction of Edge of Tomorrow).

I don’t mean to be a scrooge. I was impressed with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to a point. But I fail to see how it breaks any kind of formula. One can see every emotional beat ahead of time and all of the human characters are either forced schmaltz or uninteresting. Maybe a movie that was all apes would have been less glib. Once again, the technical aspects of the film remain impressive, but I can’t quite recommend the whole thing.

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