Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was nowhere to be found on my 'must see' list a few Summers ago.  We're well into a new era in Hollywood; the era of reboots, remakes and sequels; and 'Rise' didn't seem much more to me than a shameless money grab by Fox.  I was wrong.  I was very impressed with the film's story, visual effects and Andy Serkis' incredible performance as the lead ape, Caesar.  Here we are a few years later, and the inevitable sequel has arrived, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  The sequel is being hailed by critics and fans alike, and currently sits at 91% on  I don't want to delay any longer, let's go!

What I liked about the film:
The Emotion (The Story and Performance Capture)
'Dawn' tells a beautifully simple story... one of survival and family.  I was watching the film and not necessarily caring for one race over the other (humans vs. apes); but feeling for them all.  The performance capture technology used in the first film is stepped up a notch in 'Dawn', and you can't help but feel sympathetic for what the apes are going through.  Without spoiling anything; there are issues of trust between the humans and the apes, when they finally interact with one another.  While the lead ape, Caesar, has seen the human's capacity for good, most of the other apes have only seen the hate and torment brought on by the humans.

Andy Serkis' performance in the film is brilliant.  And while he may not be on screen physically, his mind and soul are very apparent when watching Caesar.  He is a terrific actor that has mastered the art of motion capture performances.  Everything from a smile, to the way he walks on his two legs, makes us believe Caesar is real.  Caesar goes through a lot in this film, and Serkis is there to guide us on the emotional ride; all the while, making forget we're watching computer generated images of apes on the screen.  Bravo to Serkis on another memorable film.

The Special Effects
Speaking of the computer generated images; the special effects in the film are mind boggling.  I basically forgot I was watching CGI apes, and was totally sold on what I was seeing.  These are the kind of action films that I usually gravitate towards.  The ones where you are so invested in the story and the characters, you forget most of the film was done in front of a green screen.  There is of course an epic showdown between the humans and the apes, but that's not even the best example of the special effects.  It's the subtle moments between apes that have you totally focused on character development, rather than guns blazing action.

The Director
Matt Reeves did a hell of a job with this film.  His choice in production design, casting, music, editing and more, all added up to a great film.  While I believe the scope of the film, in regards to setting, are a bit too small for this size production, everything else is brought up a notch.  When Reeves was announced as the director to the sequel, I wasn't that thrilled.  I was very disappointed in Cloverfield, despite all the buzz.  And I hadn't seen anything Reeves worked on.  But this movie has made me a fan.  I hope he returns for the inevitable sequel, and continues to put his stamp on the franchise.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Character Development
Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee all do a great job with the material they're provided.  But my opinion is they weren't given enough character development to work with.  We BARELY get to scratch the surface of these characters.  We learn very little about what their lives were like before the outbreak.  And now that they're on this journey, tell us why.  I can understand that each human needs to play a part in ensuring the survival of man; but what are the individual motivations that drive these characters?  Unfortunately, you don't get anything in the way of that explanation.  We learn that all the human characters have lost loved ones, but there has to be more than that, in regards to why they're doing what they're doing.

The Verdict:
A Terrific Follow-Up
'Dawn' is exactly the type of sequel I enjoy.  It's a film that knows how to progress a story.  The visual effects are a spectacle to behold.  And the movie is at its best when it's subtle in its storytelling.  There are some great themes explored throughout the film, by humans and apes alike.  While I thought the actors did well in their respective roles, I didn't think they had enough material to keep the audience invested in them.  I hope Matt Reeves returns to direct any future sequels, and we can see what has become of Caesar and his planet of the apes.