Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes looks to build upon Rupert Wyatt’s brilliant 2011 movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but falls short in most ways.

With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt, managed to find a nice balance between the clichéd universe it sprung out from, and a serious tone with emotional touches. Telling the story of a troubled scientist (played by James Franco), who is working on a cure for the alzheimer’s disease – for which his father (John Lithgow) is suffering from. This leads him to experiment on chimpanzees, and when one particular experiment goes awry, he feels obliged to adopt (and raise) a young orphaned chimp, he names, Caesar (motion captured by Andy Serkis).

As one should know at this point, things get out of hand fast. Caesar feels betrayed by his adoptive human father – and the human race in general – and, using an unauthorised version of the alzheimer “cure”, turns his fellow chimpanzees super intelligent before turning the Golden Gate Bridge into a small war zone. The movie ends with Caesar leading his new family to the Muir Woods Park.

When Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (herby referred to as Dawn) opens, we get a news montages tellings us the world has gone to shit. Most humans died from a virus – spreading as a result of the “cure” Caesar used in the first film – and others died in the fightings. Those few who survived, colonised small and isolated places around the world, and we follow the small population in San Francisco. Lead by Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke’s characters, we meet them as they are in desperate need of power. Power they can only gain from the dam in the Muir Woods Park, where – coincidentally – Caesar have built an impressive colony of human-hating chimpanzees. This will of course cause issues for both parties.

Jason Clarke takes a small group of people to the Muir Woods, to ask Caesar’s permission to work on the dam. They reach an agreement, and each spices seems keen to help the other, but on distrustful and shaky terms. One of the main issues with Dawn, is the fact that it is way too predictable. We’re not just able to predict the outcome of every scenario before they happen, we can also predict exactly how they will play out. Predictability in blockbuster movies has however become a staple of the genre, and some would urge to ignore it. Turn off your brain.

– A review of Guardians of the Galaxy will be live on sunday or monday, as soon as we’ve seen the movie a second time.

To some extent I agree, but as Guardians of the Galaxy proved this weekend, a movie can be action packed, funny, childish and nostalgic, while still respecting it’s audience – and not urging it to turn off their brains. Let’s take Kirk Acevedo’s character. A tool to the story, and a blunt tool at that. He has one character trait, and only one purpose in the movie – be the dick that causes problems between the humans and the chimps. This is pure and bad character development, and sadly he is not a single passenger in his boat. Keri Russell plays the stereotypical love interest of the male hero, and while Rise didn’t do female characters any justice, it feels worse when the movie tries to justify it at different stages. The penicillin scene, to spoil as little as possible. They also share the responsibility for  a young orphaned boy, whose only character trait is that he can draw – and thus form an “emotional” bond with an orangutang.

Why, when the chimpanzees struggled to gain super intelligence, should we simply turn off ours?
Why, when the chimpanzees struggled to gain super intelligence, should we simply turn off ours?

But,  I don’t want to point to many fingers at once. The CGI is fantastic, much thanks to brilliant motion capture, and the crew who animated the chimpanzees deserve all the credit in the world – and should receive recognition for it in the award season. Too often movies use too much, and in terms of CGI, the expression “less is more” shines true. As always, some scenes and locations lend themselves better to CGI-chimpanzees than other, but in Dawn it was a rarity that it was too apparent or annoying.

I also want to praise the underused Gary Oldman. He really shines through in one of the few original and emotional scenes in the movie, where he – for a reason I won’t spoil – get’s a glimpse back into his past. This scene goes to show that you can use a standard trope in original and well written ways. Also, it shows us how characters can use commercial products, without it being a blatant product placement.

The third act action scenes are orchestrated in a nice way, and when you take the movie for what it is, it is epic to see chimpanzees dual wield machine guns while riding horses through a sea of flames. The last few minutes however, feel cheap and unsatisfying. It also goes to show how important it is to do what Wyatt did with Rise, find a balance. Because Dawn tries to be an explosive summer blockbuster and an emotional and philosophical piece of evolutionary filmmaking, without success. The movie builds upon our emotions for the better part of 20 minutes, showing us a fallen hero who is to weak to fight, but minutes later – even seconds – this same hero, along with the movie, seems to have forgotten this aspect of the story. It clashes, and shows a director without a complete vision.

It’s painfully apparent in the opening act, after the news montages. We get a close up of Caesars face, and as he and the chimpanzees hunts down wild animals in the woods. As they swing from branch to branch, in an impressive scene, the soundtrack gives a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the use of György Ligetis, Requiem. 2001 used this masterpiece to showcase how monkeys learned to use tools, and therefore progressed up the evolutionary ladder, and celebrating this in the beginning of Dawn – showing us how far Caesar has come – works wonders. It’s just a shame this wonder falls apart as a result of Matt Reeves’ lack of vision.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is far from a bad movie, but just as far from a great movie. It feels decent, and even when you accept this uneven direction, it never succeeds in much else than showcasing cool and impressive visuals. 

 

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