Review Roundup - Et tu Koba?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Reboots, and even worse the dreaded re-imagining, are something of a sore point for any film fan most of the time. After all, we all have our favourites and on most occasions remakes simply add a 'no the other one' moment in a cinema discussion and nothing of any value. It was interesting to see then, that Rise of the Planet of the Apes did the unthinkable by escaping the shadow of a much maligned Tim Burton effort some years before and even managed to go beyond the trite "Rise" style title which usually signifies a shoddy effort on the part of the writers. But they pushed forward with motion capture technology, provided a story with some emotional resonance and managed to provide many with a good time. They were some questionable inclusions - some poor casting, a few cliches and perhaps some unnecessary shout outs to the original Charlton Heston film... but overall it was impressive to see once things got moving. As a sequel, Dawn has a lot of food for thought and a good deal of character from the apes once again, but whether it could be called fun is probably pushing it.


In fact it's a slower, more somber affair all round. In case some viewers missed the end credits sequel bait in the previous story, an opening repeats that flight path infographic and shows that right off the bat things will be a bit darker - with a pandemic destroying much of the human race. With its creators long gone there isn't room for any kind of story about the problems of gene therapy and lab testing, instead it's about survival and everything jumps forward a decade to allow ape culture to grow and the ruins of the old world to remain abandoned just long enough for it to be a surprise to them when homo-sapiens arrive back in San Francisco. This is a culture clash film about the failure of communities to engage properly, a staple of sci-fi. It's heavy handed but this is a film throwing the 'apes as humans' imagery at the audience the whole time, so it works. Unlike say Avatar there are no one dimensional villains, love interests or clean cut heroes - even if it is very predictable. The apes that turn out bad are easy to spot - it's not the one called Blue Eyes. Which might have made it more interesting rather than expected. But the tone carries it - the characters on both sides are worried about losing things in life which everyone can understand; nobody is just obsessed with land or money. They explore the good and bad of each side fairly well. But as everyone knows this will never end well, it's in the title.

Beyond the character drama this is an impeccable effects movie. As with Andy Serkis playing Caesar the first time or as Gollum, the realism is never quite perfect but the character is what makes things believable. He gets top billing for a good reason, but many of the apes impress. On the other side you have a reasonable amount of human characters with varying levels of actual humanity so it's good to see things building up. When the fireworks do start it's not overblown or drawn out, there are just enough action beats to add to that tension which is building all the way through. The violence is also surprisingly brutal while never being explicit. In place of that feeling of rooting for the underdogs as they escape zoos and laboratories, it's a more complex world where even the gun collecting humans are motivated by fear rather than being archetypes that have no backstory and are evil for the sake of a bad guy in the script. The big climax does feel a little out of place as a contrast to the rest of the film's tone (perhaps even a bit Spider-Man esque) but it's a small moment of excess. It does feel its length at times but overall this is a worthwhile viewing in a summer filled with comic book heroes and films which are all spectacle and zero charisma.

4/5