So far this year I have seen The Monuments Men, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Godzilla. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes blows all three of them away in their respective specialties. I admit that even this time last year I disliked the overuse of visual effects in films (I’m famous in my household for my hatred of Avatar for that exact reason). However, now I must correct myself after Gravity last year and Dawn in 2014. The special effects not only enhance the cinematic experience but can create one on screen, thus creating a fantastic scene at the beginning of the film with the apes hunting in the redwood forest.
For most of the film you genuinely forget that these aren’t actual apes (though they don’t have a shade on 2001: A Space Odyssey) as Andy Serkis plays Caesar like you would imagine a Shakespearean actor portraying his namesake. The MVP of Dawn belongs to Toby Kebbell who gives an outstanding performance to Koba, Caesar’s 2nd in command. The character was a relatively minor role in the first reboot back in 2011 (which I haven’t seen since seeing it at the cinema) but in the sequel he has a lot to do and performs the task incredibly well, along with newcomer Nick Thurston who portrays Blue eyes – Caesar’s eldest son who says little but infers a lot.
Some of the critics of the last two films have been disappointed with the lack of strong female characters and I have to agree with them. Keri Russell is surprisingly good considering how unimportant her character really is. Gary Oldman is Gary Oldman and delivers a decent showing as Dreyfus, particularly in a scene in which he breaks down over an iPad. Jason Clarke; who is one of the most likeable talents in Hollywood (best known for his role opposite Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark 30 and for his casting as John Conner in the next Terminator movie) plays single-dad Malcolm with a good natured heart which will certainly persuade you to like him early on in the film.
There are negatives to this film. There is a moment halfway through the film which I thought heralded a fantastic twist but the story gets cold feet. There are certain stereotypical aspects to the film, especially the annoying close-minded guy who doesn’t really provide much to the story.
However, what wins this film over is the way it manages to get you to fall in love with the characters despite having a wall of CGI between the ape and the viewer. The story carries you through the action and though the third act’s main action setpiece is rather plain, the mid-film battle is outstandingly shot with fire and bullets raining down on both sides. There are two outstanding shots in the film which I thought were simply divine: the first being a fixed camera following a tank in the battle of which I have just mentioned, and the second being a one take wonder following Jason Clarke’s character through a quick but very tense action scene. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not only a great genre movie, it is not only a great summer blockbuster; it is a great movie.
20th Century Fox have already earmarked 2016 for a third film and I can’t wait to see what WETA digital and Andy Serkis can do next with this franchise. If you want to listen to spoiler-filled discussion then click this link for an Empire Magazine spoiler podcast special, which includes an interview with director Matt Reeves: http://www.empireonline.com/podcast/