Horseback apes with machine guns steal the show from their human counterparts in this thrilling ‘prequel-sequel’ from director Matt Reeves.
The Planet of the Apes franchise has, by in large, been a relatively successful one that has stood the test of time (let’s of course exclude Tim Burton’s excruciating 2001 eye sore). Despite falling into obscurity in the last decade, British filmmaker Rupert Wyatt managed to successfully reboot the series in 2011 with the critically acclaimed ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. Now, the buck has passed to Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, and again the result is positive, with Reeves delivering an overwhelmingly enjoyable watch that arguably surpasses the first film.
‘Dawn of’ picks up a decade after the end of the previous film, with the Simean virus killing all but 1 in 500 immune humans surviving off scraps. Lead by Caesar (the brilliant Andy Serkis), the apes have created an ‘Ewok-esque’ shantytown in the Muir Woods outside the wreckage of a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Unaware that there are human survivors, lead by the pro-peace Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and the trigger-happy Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a chance encounter between the two ensures an obligatory fight for dominance.
Reeves’ direction is one of the film’s strongest elements; despite countless technological advances at his fingertips, he instead chooses to focus on the characters. Even when the chaotic spectacle of apes vs. humans is raging, Reeves’ eye is sharply fixated on the emotions of his protagonists. The motion capture technology is remarkably impressive, though it’s the type of technology that Michael Bay tortures us with year after year, yet Reeves is careful, picking his moments to showcase the marvel of all-out ape warfare.
The film’s sheer inevitability is a slight downside with an underlying feeling of predictability throughout, you feel yourself waiting for the unavoidable war to break out, but it is well worth the wait, with more than enough action to keep the tension building. Jason Clarke is reasonably impressive as bridge builder Malcolm in trying to wager peace with Caesar, but not enough time is spent on developing the rest of the human cast. Oldman’s war mongering Dreyfus and Clarke’s love interest Ellie (Keri Russell) are both characters that would have significantly benefited the film if they were developed further.
But it is the apes that are the true highlight of the film, with an outstanding Toby Kebbell as the ruthless lieutenant Koba, and Andy Serkis soaring as the protagonist Caesar. There is a notably stronger emotional connection for the apes then there are for any of the human characters, which is even stranger considering they are made wholly by motion capture; it just speaks volumes for the far-superior performances of Serkis and co.
With the release of ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ coinciding with Michael Bay’s new Transformers film, I urge you to choose the former: Reeves’ film really is a triumph, filled with extraordinary special effects, brilliant performances, and even apes riding horses.