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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | July 13, 2014 | 1 Comment

Caesar (Andy Sekis) isn't sure if he can trust humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an inferior sequel to the surpassingly enjoyable 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, truly pushes the boundaries of motion-capture (the process of using actors’ motions as the basis for creating animated characters) in ground-breaking ways. The scale is truly unparalleled: dozens of ape actors performing in the wild, not a green-screen box, and filmed in non-conversion 3-D. And the results are often extraordinary: a horde of running apes, a brutal simian showdown, facial performances with sentiment and humanity. “They’re just apes, man”, a human character tells another. “Do they look like just apes?”, comes the response. Thanks to a cast that stars Andy Serkis, as human-sympathizing ape Caesar, they look like apes, but also characters with thoughts and emotions.

It’s a shame, then, that director Matt Reeves doesn’t put the technology to use in a better movie. The action picks up long after James Franco has been wiped out by the Simian Flu, while what’s left of humanity congregate in a war-torn dystopia filled political metaphors. Power is running low, so a group of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his new wife (Keri Russell) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), attempt to make peace with the apes and gain access to a hydroelectric dam that could restore electricity. Malcolm forms a bond with ape leader Caesar, but fellow chimp Koba (Toby Kebbell) wants to lead the apes to war against humans. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a human leader, also wants to protect his species in any way he can, which he thinks will lead his species to battle.

Reeves, a horror helmer known for Cloverfield and Let Me In, knows how to stage some rousing action sequences but struggles with making audiences care about his take on the end of the world disaster film genre. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s obvious, unsubtle script is also to blame, with dialogue that rarely conveys that isn’t already clear, and human characters that seem plucked from disaster movie past. In action scenes, there are moments of laughably strained credibility. And the moments of human drama are nothing we haven’t seen in better, smarter movies.

The humans are torn against saving apes or killing them in Dawn of the Planet of the Planet of the Apes (2014)Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, and the rest of the human cast do little with the lines they’re given. Clarke, bland as can be, seems entirely miscast as Malcolm, while Russel and Smit-McPhee do their best with characters that seem like forgotten strands from a poorly-drawn first-draft. Oldman is surprisingly tender in his brief scenes and lends some depth to a not-quite bad guy, though even he succumbs to the laughably overblown script in his final moments.

While the mo-cap animation is gorgeous, there’s simply too many apes to keep track of. Differentiating animated characters who speak in hand-gestures and look confusingly similar is not an easy task and the director and screenwriters are too busy dividing their time between two species to give either enough thought. Serkis and Kebbell, though, give phenomenally affecting performances, though their costars don’t get enough focus. The opening scenes, meanwhile, could’ve used a bit of cleanup from the animators.

Not everything about Dawn is awful. Michael Giacchino’s score is filled with eerily effective piano and stirring strings, while Michael Seresin’s cinematography is rough and real (and reminiscent of Wally Pfister’s work on The Dark Knight trilogy). If there’s one thing Dawn does better than Rise, it’s the sense that the characters are living in a fully-developed world, thanks to James Chinlund’s rough, real production design. Matt Reeve, meanwhile, makes a few daring directorial decisions: spending long stretches with the apes, killing off the first film’s lead characters before this movie even begins, and holding back on big acton for an hour. Speaking of which, the apes’ fiery attack on the humans is pretty thrilling.

Koba (Toby Kebbell) is ready to kill some humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)At the end of the day (or world, in this case), a few adventurous ideas and some neat technical tricks can’t save one of the most boring, bloated blockbusters in recent memory. Dawn of the Planet Apes is more clever than some action movies but it rarely makes us care about its characters without being formulaic. Yes, the motion-capture technology behind all those apes might create new opportunities for future films-but that doesn’t mean you should see this one.

Comments

One Response to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Flack’s Review)”

  1. Abid
    July 14th, 2014 @ 8:12 pm

    I have not seen it nor intend to see it. Your review is very good and you have captured the essence of the film.

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