Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Directed by Matt Reeves. With Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Rusell.
After the clever set-up of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which did a fine job of laying the groundwork for the series to find life with a new generation of film-goers, Matt Reeves takes the director’s chair for this impressive-looking sequel. Pleasingly, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is perhaps most notable for putting character and emotional involvement above spectacle. We revisit a crippled version of our world, ravaged by ‘simian flu’, in which most of the population without natural immunity have died. A world in which apes have begun to develop language skills, blurring the lines between themselves and humankind.
Leader of the apes is Ceaser (Andy Serkis), whose wisdom is a beacon of light for the apes as they struggle to find peace, living with the constant fear and threat of humans. Once again, Serkis’ performance is stunning, allowing the audience to completely invest in the character, entirely accepting him as a part of the environment. The best compliment you can pay any CG animator is to say that you either, forgot, or didn’t realise you were looking at animation. That happens here.
There are flaws, though. Big ones. The human characters are wafer-thin, in comparison to the apes. Where James Franco ensured a good balance in the first film, the central human character, played by Jason Clarke, is nowhere near nuanced enough to resonate. While the apes are beautifully fleshed-out, it’s the non-animated characters that suffer, even with Gary Oldman propping up their ranks. Such is the technical achievement, it’s a real shame not be able to speak more highly, but the oversight of writing human characters that are little more than cardboard cut-outs substantially weakens the film.
Aesthetically, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is breathtaking to behold. It’s full of stunning imagery and complex themes, furthering the evolution of an interesting series that looks set to run and run. The central overtones of the divisions and similarities between humans and apes are brought ever closer to the fore, setting the tone for further films to come. If only the humans were half as interesting as the apes, we might have been talking about something very special indeed. 3.5/5