Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)    1 Stars

“One last chance for peace.”  

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)


Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis

Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.




Ten years after the events of the first Planet of the Apes movie, and a large colony of apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, King Kong) now dwells in the forests north of San Francisco.   They live and hunt as a tribe, and they’re close to learning how to speak, although a rudimentary form of sign language is still their primary form of communication.   The idle curiosity of Caesar and his lieutenant Koba (Toby Kebbell) over whether any of the human race might have survived the devastating virus that swept the globe a decade before, is swiftly answered when one member of a hunting party is shot by a panicky member of a small group of humans they encounter in the forest.   The group was heading for a power station beyond the apes’ colony in the hope of restoring power to the city, and the incident throws a major spanner in the works when Caesar spares them their lives but angrily insists they return home.

Some movies would have this incident serve as the trigger for an all-out war between the apes and their neighbours, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes appears to have loftier aspirations than the usual special-effects extravaganza (even though the film is really just one long special effect).   It devotes a lot of time to mapping out the understandable wariness of the two parties, both of whom seemed to previously be unaware of the other’s existence despite living just a few miles apart, and the way in which  an uneasy truce is established – and then destroyed.   Once again, the franchise goes to great lengths to ensure that neither species is painted in a worse light than the other, with each corner attaching equal importance to the concept of home and family.   Paradoxically, while serving to humanise both groups, these concerns also fuel the compulsion to attack in order to defend.  Each side’s warmonger has a counterpart in the opposing camp, both of whom nurse understandable fears about the motives of their opposite numbers.

But the good guys have a counterpart too, and Caesar’s is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who was leading the group that had the fateful encounter with the hunting party.   Objecting to the hasty decision of Dreyfus (Gary Oldman – The Dark Knight Rises, Robocop), the leader of the human colony, who favours using force if necessary to reach the power station, Malcolm buys enough time to revisit the apes to ask their permission.   Realising that the humans will probably use weapons to get their way if he refuses, Caesar reluctantly agrees to Malcolm’s proposal, but an agreement built on fear and mistrust is always destined to fail…

By attempting to provide its audience with a detailed account of the origins of a planet ruled by apes without portraying either apes or humans as the sole villains of the piece, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes bogs itself down with explanatory detail.   It’s the sort of thing that might work in a novel that can vocalise its characters’ thoughts, but the movie has to resort to showing – or worse, telling – with clunky exposition and sometimes unconvincing behaviour.   The film also clearly feels it has a duty to the bulk of its audience to deliver the kind of explosive set-pieces that draw people into the multiplexes, but only manages to do so by loading most of the action into the final third which leaves the film looking a little unbalanced.   And despite all the restraint shown by the film in order to explore and expand upon the ultimately unworkable relationship between human and ape in a reasonably intelligent way, we still end up with a couple of monkeys fighting on a burning building.

(Reviewed 15th May 2015)

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