DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Running Length: 131 minutes
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cinematography: Michael Seresin
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
The action never lets up and the tension is artfully maintained in spite of an unshakable sense of narrative inevitability.
Hey – do you wanna see a talking monkey riding a horse while firing off two machine guns àla John Rambo? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t want to see something like that? This summer, the only place you’ll see a spectacle as ludicrous as this is in Matt Reeves’ barmy but brilliant Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Picking up where 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes finished up, this sequel begins with a heart-warming prologue depicting the spread of an avian flu-like pandemic, the consequential breakdown of society and the eventual decimation of the human race. Caesar (Andy Serkis – nice to see him diversifying his MoCap career with a performance that doesn’t involve him playing a monkey. Oh wait…) has become the de facto leader of the apes. No signs of human activity have been detected in over a decade, and Caesar’s tribe have enjoyed ten years of peace and harmony without interference. But a colony of survivors led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) have been subsisting at a nearby quarantine zone. Fuel is running out, and the humans’ only chance of survival depends on reactivating a hydroelectric dam which, of course, is in ape country. The human incursion into Caesar’s territory turns violent, and Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar’s Iago-esque second-in-command, has an appetite for vengeance. But Mrs. Caesar has just had another baby monkey, so he’s feeling a bit “Martin Luther King” and is disinclined to start an unnecessary war.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a dark, dour movie in more than tone. Much of the action takes place at night, and the few scenes in daylight are filtered through a perpetual curtain of rainfall. Cinematographer Michael Seresin’s choice of rain grey colour palette is hindered further by the necessity of donning the dreaded 3D specs (which as usual, adds nothing whatsoever to the overall experience).
At times it is difficult to tell one ape from another, but some are genuinely terrifying and all are rendered with such care that it is easy to forget that they are artificial constructs. Occasionally the verisimilitude is damaged by some ill-conceived choices, such as the aforementioned machine gun firing, horse riding Rambo monkey, or a scene where a group of ape midwives wear surgical masks made from bamboo (why on earth..?). But while credibility may be stretched, it never breaks. As long as you can buy into the ridiculous premise, the film works. The interactions between Serkis and Nick Thurston (playing Caesar’s son) are truly moving, and convey an emotional depth that the human performers cannot match. The heavy-handed metaphors (racial intolerance; guns don’t kill people, monkey’s do; apes are crappy at architecture etc.) soon begin to grate, but the action never lets up and the tension is artfully maintained in spite of an unshakable sense of narrative inevitability. The conclusion may be well-signposted, but the journey is worth making.