Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is remarkably powerful
The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not the film I expected it to be, it is not the film I wanted it to be, it is better. Propelled by the impressive performance of Andy Serkis the height of human drama is reached by apes. Well, a man playing an ape through the wizardry of motion capture performance, but I’ll get to that later. The strength of this film is the treatment of the apes as equal characters to the humans in the film. Grappling with problems at least as equally complex, the characters of Caesar, Koba, Blue Eyes, and Maurice are as nuanced and fallible as any human characters. In truth, it is easy to forget there are both human and non-human characters.
However a single performance does not make a fine film, it takes layers of elements, carefully assembled to tell a compelling story. That is precisely what Matt Reeves has done. Arguably, the script by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver is a bit on the predictable side, the classic elements play out pleasingly enough. I would say I have seen this film before; it’s possible I’ve seen this and read this story many times over, but I can’t seem to put my finger on where.
The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after a pandemic of Simian Flu has wiped out all but the smallest pockets of humanity. The genetically altered apes that took residence in the Muir Woods outside San Francisco have grown strong, forming a formidable primitive civilization. Having grown in numbers, they now believe humanity to have destroyed itself. They have built homes, and schools for the young apes, and they even have laws, chief being; Apes don’t kill Apes.
Everything changes for Caesar (Andy Serkis) when a two young apes run into a human in the woods. He panics and pulls a gun and shoots one of the apes, nearly killing him. The humans, investigating an abandoned hydroelectric dam nearby, are instantly commanded by Caesar to go and not return. This seemingly reasonable treaty is not so simple for the humans to keep. The dam is their only chance to get electricity to the small colony they established in the heart of San Francisco. Malcolm, determined to avoid a war between man and ape, returns to the forest to negotiate with Caesar. The uneasy trust formed between Malcom (Jason Clarke), his family, and Caesar and his family infuriates Koba (Toby Kebbell), a former victim of human research. The human leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) holds a deep mistrust for the apes, and prepares for an all out war against the apes.
This film has only one major weakness, that is the overall story. It is not so much that is a poorly developed plot, it is just, as I said before, commonly used. The foundations of the story are rich, there was ample opportunity to make completely unique film, instead I fear the writers took the easy path. I can’t really blame them, nor can I say I would do anything different.
As I also said before, the absolute gem of this film is the performance from Andy Serkis. Performance capture performances are becoming more common, but are not widely accepted as real acting. I would challenge anyone holding that particular prejudice to say the same after watching this film. Granted if anyone does not actually understand how motion capture, which is now becoming known as performance capture, works will be hard pressed to see it as anything other than magnificent animation, but this is a long conversation for another article. For now, I will simply say the precision with which event he most minute facial movements are captured and transferred to the character model yields a result that pure animation, even at its highest level, could never achieve. Andy Serkis is one of the, if not the, premiere character actors of this age of cinema, I sincerely hope this film will help him gain the recognition he has earned.
The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is character driven and intensely enjoyable drama, with magnificent performances, and stunning visual effects. 4.5 out of 5