Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Ten years after Caesar (Andy Serkis) escaped from confinement, he is now leading a new generation of Apes who have taken sanctuary in the forest. With the humans believed (by the Apes) to be extinct, they begin to roam free, until Caesar's son stumbles across a human who panics and shoots one of the apes. This causes a rift between the Apes and a newly discovered sanctuary of humans, particularly Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), leader of the humans. However, when Malcolm (Jason Clarke) plans an expedition into Ape territory in order to restore power to the human colony, war only seems inevitable.

This film's predecessor, 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, despite low expectations wound up as a pretty effective summer hit, with a hefty box office pull and a strong critical reception that I doubt many predicted. Cut three years ahead and we're here with a sequel so different in almost every respect, one would be forgiven to doubt the success rate yet again. But, against expectations, Dawn is, in fact, a vast improvement over its predecessor. Almost everything that was great the first time around is even better here, and with a running time that actually feels suitable for a film of this scale (Rise's 91 minutes felt far too rushed). But here, we are given a film not afraid to push the boundaries that extra bit further. Whilst Rise was essentially an origin story, Dawn borders on war.

Much like 2011's original, the visuals are mind blowing. Whilst the larger shots are simply a wonder to behold, particularly in the film's final act in which the scale is raised incredibly high, the visuals are at the best in the close ups. Serkis, yet again, gives a sublime performance as Caesar, as do all the cast playing Apes. Towards the end of the film, there is a confrontation between two of the Apes, and the detail is extraordinary. The motion capture for the lead actors is potentially the best use of this technology so far, but even in the background, the emotion they get on these Apes' faces is so real, so powerful. Even the simplest facial expression from a computer generated character is enough to evoke a pretty hefty emotional response from most viewers. Even when the film slows down to focus on plot development for a while, it's still breathtaking to look at.

But despite such a heavy reliance on visual effects, the plot itself is both interesting and engaging from the offset. This winds up as one of very few blockbusters with a story to fully sustain its running time, but with enough depth and power that it never feels stretched or laboured. As the beginning of a war story, Dawn has two clear, distinct sides. But both of them are understandable, you don't doubt the motives or intentions of either side, which makes it nigh on impossible to try and pick a side to back. Whilst the humans simply want to return power to their colonization, the apes want to stay clear and keep their territory to themselves, having been caged away for so long. But, with both Caesar and Malcolm lost in the middle of those opposing forces, they begin relating to each other, which allows us to relate to them. And all of this happens so smoothly, you barely even notice it.

Whilst Dawn has a pretty hefty plot from the outset, it truly comes into its stride in the final act. Not only does the scale increase monumentally, but the tension hits heights you wouldn't think were permitted in a 12. But even with this increase in tension and scale, director Matt Reeves understands that this story relies so heavily on its characters that he never allows the film to go that bit too far so that it borders on unrealistic. This is, after all, a film about Apes taking over human civilisation, which is a concept that is pretty difficult to get on board with. But Reeves plays this out with an extraordinary sense of realism, which leads to one hell of an emotional response towards the film's climax. Those who weren't fans of 2011's original won't find much to like here, but to those who enjoyed it, this could wind up as one of the year's very best. With Reeves already on board for a sequel (currently unofficially titled Planet of the Apes), this story is only set to get bigger. Whether it will be better, however, is another matter; this entry will be hard to top, but if he does it, this trilogy could wind up in "classic" status.

To Summarise: Boasting flawless direction, powerful acting and an intricate, tightly plotted story, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the rare summer blockbuster that pleases in terms of both visual style and raw, honest emotion.

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