Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Gary Oldman
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: July 17th
When the news came of a reboot of the Planet of the Apes, the natural reaction was sceptical caution mixed with the gleeful expectation of a gorilla sized turkey. The wounds of Tim Burton’s farcical reimagining in 2001 may have healed, but the scars still itch on occasion. Rise of the Planet of the Apes had two aces up its sleeve in the form of Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital company and his frequent collaborator and motion-capture doyen, Andy Serkis. It cleverly worked as both Caesar Begins while also plotting what would be the downfall of human life.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up 10 years after the ALZ-113 virus (also named Simian Flu) has wiped out massive patches of human life in the world. Small pockets still remain peppered around the globe — including a commune in San Francisco — largely unaware of other survivors due to a lack of electricity. A long abandoned dam near the Muir Woods — now a commune and home for all the apes that escaped there — across the Golden Gate Bridge remains the only tangible hope of energy. After a scouting party in the wrong neighbourhood and some misunderstandings take place, the malleability of simian-homosapien relations is constantly pushed.
It’s tough to convey just how daringly brave and ballsy DOTPOTA is. Opening with a There Will Be Blood-esque 15 minutes of no spoken dialogue and apes communicating in sign language isn’t something a blockbuster normally aims for. It sets a precedent though; this a movie is invariably about the apes. They’re given the emotional beats, the conflict and character arcs while the human cast are relegated to the two-dimensional archetypes: the heroic everyman (Jason Clarke); his reassuring wife (Keri Russell), the doctor; his slightly distant son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the artist; his friend (Kirk Avecado), the intolerant knucklehead; and the ambiguous villain (Gary Oldman), that guy from Leon! By contrast, Caesar’s (Serkis at his absolute peak) relationships and interaction hold so much more weight. His burden is huge; guiding his tribe in the face of war, losing his son’s faith, tending to a sick wife and fending off mutiny from his second-in-command and scheming bonobo, Koba (a both terrifying and hilarious Toby Kebbell).
Director Matt Reeves return to feature film directing in 2008 with Cloverfield after a 12-year absence — call it a mandatory minimum sentence for David Schwimmer starring The Pallbearer — saw him lump in with J.J. Abrams cabal of creatives (Abrams and Bryan Burk produced, Drew Goodard wrote the script). Since then, there’s an argument to be made, and I’m making it, that Reeves has become the most interesting of them all. Commitment to simian development aside, his execution of set pieces is striking. Two in particular, a whirling panoramic from atop a tank and an ebbing tracking shot through a crumbling building, are just glorious. And while he may have left Camp Abrams, he took his secret weapon in the form of composer Michael Giacchino whose score brims with heart and fury, meshing paranoid strings with the sound of a chimp bashing a timpani with its fists.
Where the original served as an allegory for the fraught dangers of cold war and nuclear devastation, DOTPOTA serves a more personal message; one of understanding others. At the core of it, neither faction is wrong, they’re only in fear of the other. A strong anti-gun message pervades — which will be interesting to see how it plays with certain sections of America — and the case of Trayvon Martin is even echoed in one scene. Again, it’s all pretty ambitious for a movie that also has apes wantonly firing semi-automatic rifles and an orangutan reading a graphic novel in which an STD causes mutations in teenagers. But my goodness, does it ever work.