Review Roundup - Et tu Koba?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Reboots, and worse yet the dreaded re-imaginings, are something of a sore point for many film fans much of the time. After all we all have our special favourites, and on most occasions remakes simply add a frustrating 'no the other one' moment to cinema discussions and nothing of else 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 horribly 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 offer many viewers a good time. They were some questionable inclusions of course - some poor casting, a few clich├ęs and perhaps some unnecessary shout outs to the original Charlton Heston film... but overall it was pretty impressive once things got moving. Would a follow be able to do the same of even up the ante?


As a sequel, Dawn offers a lot of food for thought while continuing to develop the apes as characters. Describing it as a fun blockbuster is probably pushing things, but it's always engrossing. In fact it's a slower, bleaker, and more sombre affair all round. In case some viewers missed the end credits sequel bait in the previous outing, the opening repeats the flight path infographic. It shows that right off the bat things will be a bit darker as the pandemic destroys much of the human race. With the 'simian flu' creators long gone there isn't room for another kind of story about the problems of gene therapy and lab testing. Instead it's a tale about survival and everything jumps forward a decade to allow ape culture to grow outside the ruins of the old world. There are a lot of great city visuals and ape civilisation shots to create a believable setting.

Things remain abandoned just long enough for it to be a surprise to them when homo-sapiens arrive back in woods outside of San Francisco. This is a culture clash film, a story about the failure of communication between two tribes; a great staple of both drama and sci-fi. It's heavy handed but this is a film throwing the 'apes as humans' imagery at the audience the whole time, an idea that still works. Unlike something like say... Avatar there are no one dimensional villains, superfluous love interests or clean cut heroes - even if it is very predictable. The apes that turn out bad are easy to spot - spoiler it's not the one called 'Blue Eyes'. Changing this around a little might have made it more interesting, but the motivations on both sides are pretty well established and the tone carries it. Both sides have those who are worried about losing things in life which everyone can understand, these are not petty concerns. They explore each view fairly well, but as everyone knows this will never end well, it's in the title.

Beyond the character drama this is another impeccable effects movie. As was the case with Andy Serkis as Caesar the first time or when he played a character like Gollum, the realism is never quite perfect ... but the execution is what makes things genuinely believable. He gets top billing for a good reason. Many of the other apes are also impressive, with his old allies returning after their animal centre escape. On the other side you have a reasonable amount of human characters - with varying levels of actual humanity - and it's good to see things built up to have depth and nuance. When the fireworks do start it's not overblown or drawn out, there are just enough action beats in the conflict to release  that powder keg tension which is building all the way through. The violence is also surprisingly brutal while never being explicit, and if you want to see apes on horseback and battles with armoured cars and heavy weapons there's a few great set pieces along the way.

The big climax is probably the one thing that does feel a little out of place in comparison to the rest of the film's tone (it's perhaps even a bit Spider-Man esque) but it's a small moment of excess that finishes the story. It's a more complex sequel overall. It's a story where that feeling of rooting for the underdogs as they escape from zoos and laboratories has been replaced by a far darker atmosphere. This is a world where even the gun collecting humans are motivated by things like fear rather than just being archetypes that have no backstory and are evil for the sake of having a bad guy in the script. 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. A great reboot is a rare thing, and an even better sequel is rarer still which makes this essential viewing.

4/5