By Alexia Evripidou
Technically, visually and in terms of narrative, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is most certainly a first-rate picture. The fear and paranoia of two individuals, one ape and one human, set a sequence of hatred and fighting into motion, benefiting from expert animation and emotionally intense performances. This is definitely a thinking person’s blockbuster. A sci-fi, action, drama that makes you feel and think about the story in between all the pre-requisite explosions and violence.
Trying to move forward in a world virtually destroyed by humans and the virus they created, the growing nation of genetically evolved apes is threatened by the group of human survivors. The devastating virus that was unleashed some ten years earlier has left the humans with only a couple of weeks of power left. Forced into the jungle, where unbeknown to them the apes reside, the humans find a new source of energy to help them rebuild their lives. The leader of the apes, their saviour Caesar (Andy Serkis), was brought up by humans who taught him how to speak and understand human nature. As a result, Caesar chose to see the good in humanity and is a fair and moralistic leader seeking peace and community for his species. ‘Ape does not kill ape’, being the primary law among them.
Unfortunately, it’s only a brief matter of time until humans’ most basic emotion – fear – kicks in. When stumbling across two young apes in the jungle, one of the trigger happy humans shoots one. The leader of the group, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is unhappy about this and tries to build good relations between the two species. However, the seed has been planted and a snowball of mistrust, anger and fear that leads both parties into battle over who will be ‘top of the food chain’ begins. The situation is contrary to the mutual wishes of both peace seeking community leaders.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is exciting while delivering important messages relating to the world in which we live in today. Addressing through fiction the conflicts created as a result of fear and anger.
Koba (Tony Kebbell), Caesar’s bitter right hand ape, suffered greatly at the hands of humans who mutilated him in the name of science. He resents Caesar’s acceptance of the human race and eventually, driven by revenge, endangers his own species for his own purpose, again, arguably reflecting life where the violent and egocentric actions of a few affect the wellbeing of everyone else around them. Until as Caesar sadly says, there is no going back ‘it is too late, the war has already started’.
Interestingly, humans play second fiddle in this film. Overall they are portrayed as the basic species that needs shelter and food. The apes drive it and are portrayed as an emotionally complex species that seek ‘embitterment’. Ironically, the humans may not have much electricity and live in apparent squalor, but do possess a warehouse of arms at their disposal. So who exactly are the primitive animals here? We see the ape colony trying to steer away from the humanistic 21st century obsession with the self and veer towards a community built on respect living in harmony with their environment.
There are incredibly emotive and moving performances, especially by British born actor Serkis (Caesar). There is some seriously excellent ‘eye acting’ that draws you into the world of the apes to the point that you forget you are watching digitally enhanced characters. Although what we see is animation, the actors actually perform it and the technology is added after. It is the actors that take us on the emotional journey and the collaboration that occurs between them and the animators makes it visually superb.
I was initially dubious about watching this film for two reasons. Firstly I didn’t love its prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And secondly, I am prone to bouts of tears whenever I watch King Kong, so I was unsure if I’d be able to sit through the film with dry eyes.
However, the film took me on a visual and emotional journey packed with hope, admiration and disappointment. We are left with a devastating moment that’s soaked in quiet foreboding. War on a big scale is imminent, and we’re not supposed to be happy about it. There are some epic ape fights between Caesar and Koba that I watched gripping my seat, as well as heartbreaking moments when both species go to war. The vibrant-hued cinematography and superb location scouting is breathtaking and over all I was captivated heart and mind.
DIRECTED BY Matt Reeves
STARRING Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis
UK 2014 130 mins