Synopsis: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell star in this thrilling next chapter of The Planet of the Apes. It is 2026, and humanity has been pushed to near extinction by a deadly virus. When a group of survivors desperate to find a new source of power travel into the woods near San Francisco, they discover a highly evolved community of intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis). The two species form a fragile peace but dissention grows and the groups find themselves hurtling toward all-out war.
eyelights: the plot. the human and ape performances. the setting. the CGI close-ups.
eyesores: the CGI longshots. the apes’ super healing.
“I always think ape better than human. I see now how much like them we are.”
I’m a skeptic no more.
I was a skeptic when I first went to see ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. I mean, the original series were full of great ideas but they were conveyed in hoaky, almost naive, ways. And the Tim Burton remake had an appealing look and terrific ape performances, but it suffered from MarkyMarkitis and Burtonitis.
Then I saw ‘Rise’ and was floored by how good it was. Not brilliant, but it was coherent and well-executed. It didn’t make me rush out to see ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, because the series had been too spotty thus far, but I was certainly intrigued. Now I almost wish that I had gone out to see it then.
Because ‘Dawn’ is even better than ‘Rise’.
Set 10 years after the events of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, 2014’s ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ finds the human race devastated by a pandemic that has killed off 99% of the population. There is civil unrest everywhere, and martial law has been declared in 28 countries. The human race is on the brink.
Meanwhile, the apes have flourished. Hiding out in the forest, they’ve built a fort in the mountainside, have learned to communicate via sign language and have developed a rudimentary civilization with Caesar as their leader. Caesar, unlike most of the others, has been able to develop language skills over time.
Humans and apes don’t mix, but, desperate to reactivate a hydroelectric dam located near the apes’ fort, a small group of humans venture into the forest. Unfortunately, they encounter Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes, and his friend Ash – and the encounter goes badly. Only Caesar can prevent a fight from breaking out.
Afterwards, Caesar is under pressure from his chief rival, Koba, to do a pre-emptive strike on the humans. Instead, he takes an armed contingent with him and visits the humans to warn them never to return. But little does he know just how desperate the humans are and how ambitious Koba is.
Peace will not last long.
‘Rise’ is a timeless tale of the kind we used to get with Westerns. It takes two opposing sides but finds peaceful leads in each camp (Caesar for the apes and Malcolm for the humans) trying to collaborate for the benefit of both. But negotiations are tense, full of distrust and easily detoured altogether.
Each camp also has their villains, with Koba being the instigator of all the conflicts and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) trying his best to do what’s right for the people he leads – and that doesn’t always mean what’s best for the apes. As with Westerns, it highlights the fragility of peace when survival and ambition collide.
I was rather impressed with the picture. It doesn’t bring forth any especially new concepts, but it puts together familiar ones in a solid, wholly engaging fashion. And, frankly, for a movie that lasts well over two hours, it flew by like the breeze. It built tension, and balanced drama and action, really well.
The performances were excellent all around, both from the human and ape camps. It’s pretty impressive what motion capture technology can do these days – I couldn’t tell if the apes were all CGI, or actors in costumes that were enhanced with CGI. All I know is that the movement seemed very realistic to me.
The behaviour was also credible, well-directed. For instance, there’s a scene in which the apes are visiting San Francisco and going through the disused subway and Caesar goes through the turnstile while all the others jump over it. Naturally, Caesar would know, having lived there before, whereas the others wouldn’t.
There’s also a terrific scene in which Koba goes to check on the humans, and discovers that they are testing out weapons. When he’s caught by a nervous human, he plays the dumb goofy ape to diffuse the situation. Not only does that permit him to escape unscathed, but it brings that human’s guard down later on.
The CGI wasn’t always excellent, however: Whenever we saw long shots of the apes, they looked fake, added into the picture. And when there were tons of them, it looked like a swarm of animated creatures. The same for the elks and the grizzly bear at the beginning of the film – they simply did not look real at all.
The picture looked amazing, partly because of the setting, which is mostly in the forest. It was a very immersive experience, what with the lossless, 7.1 surround audio track on the blu-ray: the rain falling and the various sounds of the forest filled the room nicely. Even the decrepit city looked amazing here.
The action scenes were also impressive. While there were few large scale ones (‘War of the planet of the Apes’ will likely compensate!), there were many smaller ones and they all looked quite realistic. The nighttime combat was impressive – and far superior to the one from ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes‘.
The inevitable confrontation between Caesar and Koba was the only exception: It was sketchy, looking a little over the top at times, with the two of them using a construction site as their playground, tossing beams and destroying everything in sight. But I suppose that the filmmakers had to dial it up for the finale.
I also found that the apes healed far too quickly: At one point, Caesar is shot and falls down from a height – but not only does he survive the trauma, he doesn’t even bleed to death. And, days later, he’s back on his feet. And when he and Koba fight in the construction site, falling on metal beams doesn’t even faze them.
I guess those are clichés of action films: Schwarzenegger and Stallone always played those types of invincible characters and it’s only gotten worse since. These days, characters clearly break bone or get shot and they keep running and fighting. So, from that perspective, ‘Dawn’ has a relatively moderate approach.
And, because of that, it doesn’t sully the film; one can accept this cliché more easily and go with the flow. Because, beyond this aspect, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ may very well be the best movie in the whole franchise. Sure, the original had a more unique concept and a surprise twist, but it’s more simple-minded.
‘DOTPOTA’ presents complex character and societal dynamics in a way that the original films never envisioned and/or possibly couldn’t deliver. But it’s exactly what the ‘Planet of the Apes’ series should have been all along, even ached to be. Finally, the series makes good on a promise made to its fans so long ago.
I can’t wait to see the next installment.
Date of viewing: June 26, 2016