Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Film Review
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke
by Matt Callard
Version eight of the talking ape franchise is a bulky, snarling beast, alright. But its monkey brains are left in the lab with the film’s fictional virus that (almost) wipes out homo sapiens and thus paves the way for the other big primates to take over as Earth’s overlords.
A brilliant, breathtaking, bravura opening sequence takes to the trees with the dominant chimps. They hunt deer and encounter a ferocious grizzly before retreating to a vast, awe-inspiring hillside campus. It’s here that we first realise we’re among pre-lingual beasts. The apes only communicate through sign language. It’s a neat, eerie device, developed from the prequel. The muteness gives the apes a kind of brooding, slightly menacing, serenity. In fact, it’s something of a disappointment when big, bad Caesar (the cleverest chimp of all) roars their first word (“Go!”) at the invading humans.
And it’s here that the surprises in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stop. The writers realise they better get on with the tricky business of telling a story. Unfortunately, someone swallows that infernal filmmakers’ textbook and the next 100 minutes unfold in a pitifully formulaic manner, despite the taken-for-granted visual fireworks.
“The visual box of tricks overwhelms any subtlety”
So a human-ape standoff occurs because of some crossed-lines and a double-crossing bad ape, whose mistrust of humans goes back to some horrific pre-virus science lab. Battles ensue, ape-human bonds form, bad apes and bad humans get their comeuppances. Plus, there’s a huge final battle denouement that five years ago would have left you staggering with its visual intensity. But now, for this homo sapien anyway, feels like another tedious boss battle on Xbox One.
The enduring legacy of The Planet of the Apes as a franchise lies in the early movies’ cerebral reach, despite them being continually hampered by disappearing budgets. Big issues of slavery, racism, nuclear war, political systems and religion were all tackled within their original flawed ambition. But, as is often the case with films these days, in this new addition, the visual box of tricks at the modern filmmaker’s disposal overwhelms any subtlety and food-for-thought within the storytelling.