Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There aren’t many films that run through a franchise for the length of time that Planet of the Apes has, in fact aside from James Bond and a potential nod towards Superman, I’m struggling to really think of any film that has repetitively returned to the big screen over such a lengthy time frame.

Granted, the apes have taken their fair time to evolve, first appearing in 1968 and then only fleeting appearing until the recent surge in activity, but their roots are firmly laid and referenced throughout the cinematic history. I remember though that this latest reincarnation of the story, starting with The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, left me somewhat cold. And sadly, once again I’ve come away from this feeling I’ve been let down.

Andy Serkis - Motion Capture - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There can be no question that the massive advances in technology mean that visually The Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is stunning and through Andy Serkis’s amazing skill with Motion Capture monkeys have never looked so real. It’s a long, long way advanced of the “man in a suit” impressions that have dogged portrayals of our primate cousins for so long.

But that’s also a strange problem I have with the film, it’s also most too good. It’s a very strange situation, but I couldn’t see the apes as standalone characters. I’d look at Caesar and see Serkis. Imagining him covered in Lycra and dots and this inability to really withdraw from looking too technically at them meant I never really got to fully believe in them. I no longer see a man in a suit, but rather a computer representation. As bizarre as it sounds, I almost want the man in a suit back! I want that fragility and humane connection back. The CGI, as accurate and stunning as it is, breaks the shared bond that is so much at the heart of the idea behind these films. We came from them. But the computer destroys that link. It makes the Apes too digital.

As part of a franchise, you’re still OK in that the film manages to stand alone, you don’t need a scientific knowledge of the story or to have recently re-watched all that went before. There is enough backfilling and clever use of past prose to fill in the blanks and keep you entertained; you’ll understand the characters, and you’ll fleetingly guess their motives, but emotionally the film feels a little bit limp. There are moments between the apes, centred often around family bonds that are touching, but they are few and far between. There is however, no real emission of mental state from the human elements. I never really connected with them, and while it’s not surprising, as the film is directed at the apes, to never feel the terror, panic or loss the humans must be going through and facing was a slight and unexpected let down.

3d Glasses - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 3D, and I must admit, that it works, never feeling dominant or overpowering. You completely forget it about. Subconsciously taking in it’s results but never in a way that feels forced. I think that was in part down to the fact that it appears to be a very shallow 3D, used to create nothing more than a roundness and depth to the inhabited world rather than as a tool or gimmick. But also, as I so often declare, this film lives in a CGI driven landscape with a CGI created cast, and that faked reality always produces better results.

However, while I may have enjoyed the 3D it will never be enough to really save the film. The longer it goes on, the more the story becomes implausible, ludicrous and touching on the verge of lunacy. It’s almost as though they produced the first half of the story, a tale that wanted to look into social set ups, family set ups, the meaning of trust, power and the relationship of biological evolution and science; before somebody reminded them that this was a summer blockbuster so it was time to roll out the guns. To blow stuff up. And suddenly the film shifts, the tale of science, nature and primeval instinct, an almost Ape recounting of Lord of the Flies by William Goulding, is suddenly replaced by a clichéd and predictable tale in which the Apes leap through evolution, outpacing sound or light and biological physics, to become a fully tuned and prepared military war machine of never ending or depleting number.

Koba Riding Through Flames - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

And as the stupidly of this sudden advance is, they just keep ramping it up and up until you reach a crescendo that sees Monkeys riding horses, firing automatic weapons double handed while galloping through burning infernos. I’m sure the films producers were aiming for gasps of “Wow” from amazed audiences and hysterical teenage boys, but I’m afraid all they’ll get from me is a very grumpy sigh and a bemoaning “Oh come on…”.

The Fonz didn’t just jump the shark, he performed an entire aerial ballet finishing with a triple pike somersault and perfect landing.

The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but it’s popcorn fodder. It’s a petroleum fuelled explosion, whittled down to the lowest common denominator, designed to burn a computer generated set as fast as it generates money and it makes no apologies for it. But neither should it. It’s just another in a long line of franchise films built on this idea. The problem is though, it tries to have a voice, to speak about something more, and for doing so, got its ear roundly clipped and told not to be so silly.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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