Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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After a plague has wiped out most of the world’s humans, intelligent apes have been living in relative peace, until a small group of human survivors encroaches on their land and tensions rise.

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Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the leader of a group of intelligent apes who live in the forest just near San Francisco after a man-made virus (the “Simian Flu”, which we saw starting to spread at the end of the first film) has destroyed the human world. He and his fellow apes have built a kind of village in the trees, and have developed hunting skills. While out fishing one day, Caesar’s son comes across a group of humans, including the angry Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the understanding Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Not knowing about the apes, they’ve come to start up electricity from a dam, in the hopes of contacting other survivors. The humans, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), are scared of the apes, due to their connection with the “Simian flu” and their earlier uprising against the humans. The two groups try to navigate each other, but tensions run high, and Malcolm and Caesar work together to try to prevent a war between the species.

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This is the second really disappointing sequel of the summer. 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a surprising blockbuster, a deep, thoughtful, character-driven film which established the world in which we connect more with the apes than the humans. Andy Serkis put in a powerful performance as the intelligent Caesar, betrayed by humans but still believing in their potential for good. He’s blinded to the potential for evil in apes, however, and this comes into play here, with his violent second-in-charge Koba (Toby Kebbell). Koba is a great character, scarred and bitter about his mistreatment at the hands of scientists who experimented on him for years before Caesar freed him. The human equivalent, Kirk Acevedo’s Carver, is a much more one-dimensional villain, just as Malcolm and his bland family are very one-sided heroes. Keri Russell is better than the role she gets in this. She should be the star, being much more capable than the accent-challenged Australian Jason Clarke. Fellow Aussie Kodi Smit-McPhee (I gasped when I saw his name in the end credits – I always forget that kids grow up) does better as a traumatised teen (why? We don’t get to find out), whose accent is consistent at least.

The film is very CG-heavy. It’s a while before we see our first human, and all the animals in the opening scenes (in fact, probably through the whole movie) are computer generated. I found it incredibly distracting, because there’s an unrealness about it – when there’s one or two apes in frame, they’re completely convincing, but in the bigger group scenes the cracks begin to show. The war scenes are blistering and well-shot, and as a war movie this might have been more successful. An attempt to recapture the humanistic family drama of the first film falls flat, though there’s a stir of emotion when Caesar returns to his old home. The gender politics of the movie are, once again, really irritating and off-putting – there’s a grand total of one named female role in the whole movie, the aforementioned Keri Russell, while Caesar’s partner’s major contribution is to give birth and be tragically ill. (Apparently even ape women aren’t safe from Hollywood tropes.) The movie takes on some interesting, heavy themes, and occasionally shows signs of addressing them (particularly through Koba and his relationship with Caesar), but ultimately it’s a disappointing follow-up to a promising film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on IMDb

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