Gloriously dark: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Let me begin by saying that I absolutely loved this film – I thought it was extraordinary. Anything that I say in this review has to be taken in that very positive context. In fact, I have no idea how this film has managed to get away with being thought of as a ‘popcorn blockbuster’ film. It looks and feels and is a grand, thoughtful and challenging piece of work. Every single person involved in this film has to be applauded.

BUT… Dawn of The Planet of the Apes is a very dark film and I am the first to admit that, even though I loved it, I can see why others found it hard to enjoy. It takes its sweet time to tell its story and really doesn’t provide the audience with any palatable answers to serious questions it raises. Are humans worth saving? Is war acceptable even when the reasons for going to war are questionable? What is family? I could go on – sometimes the film is like a philosophy lecture and I was delighted with that but some may not be.

…  

There is also remarkably very little action in the general sense of the word. You will have to wait a long time to see any spectacular set pieces, and when the action does eventually come it is spectacular and a joy to behold.  A lot of the spectacle comes from the computer generated special effects, which are fantastic. The effects are so good that I don’t remember ever questioning anything that I saw on screen – and remember this is a film about intellectually superior talking monkeys… on horses… and they are shooting guns for crying out loud.  Never once did I think “wow, how did they do that?” I simply saw the apes as characters and went along with the story.

And the story is cheerless and it is relentlessly dense. The film’s story is essentially about the inevitable war for superiority between humans and apes, and the focus is on the lead up to this war. So we get a lot of politics from both species which I found fascinating but I can understand that others could find it tedious.

koba-planet-apesThe majority of ‘Dawn’s’ cast is stellar and the absolute star of the show is Toby Kebbell who is jaw-droppingly good as Koba. Now I appreciate this maybe controversial, especially because Andy Serkis is also fantastic in this film, but Koba man – Kebbell made me sympathise with that maniac. Koba is an ape who was tortured and experimented on by humans in the previous ‘Apes’ film and he spends the entirety of this one trying to convince his brethren, especially Serkis’ Caesar to go to war with the humans. The more Caesar refuses, the more angry and villainous Koba becomes – and, to my complete surprise, I absolutely understood where Koba was coming from – which made him not only more believable but infinitely more viable as a threat.

There is a scene in the film where Caesar is trying to convince Koba of the kind nature of humans and Koba responds by pointing to scars on his body that were inflicted by his tormentors. That scene actually caught me off guard and I was a little choked up by it, which surprised me – these are computer generated monkeys for crying out loud.  But this scene gave some validity to Koba’s argument against humans. In that situation, could you defend us as a species? Could you convince those apes that we were worth saving even after we spent generations experimenting on their kind?

The real problem I have with this film stems from the human side of the conflict. Although Gary Oldman is, well Gary Oldman (meaning he’s great), the rest of the human cast didn’t meet the same standard.  The film tries to make you believe that there are similarities and connections between the apes and the humans, especially Jason Clarke’s Malcolm but I just didn’t believe it. No offense whatsoever to Clarke but he is no James Franco. This lack of reason to care for the human element made the film less impactful than it should have been.

But as I said at the beginning, it is a fantastic film. A brave film. I am delighted that it has done as well as it has in the box office. This is the first time since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight that I feel a blockbuster film has challenged me at the cinema. I felt very uncomfortable watching many of the happenings in this movie and, frankly, I am fine with that. 

Bring on the next Ape film. 

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