I don’t know what’s more alarming about Hollywood’s current state of creativity; the fact that every movie review I’ve posted in July (aside from Transcendence) is a sequel, or that one of the better ones of the lot was the sequel to a prequel-reboot hybrid. Either way, this should tell you a thing or two about originality in the modern film world.
Cloverfield director Matt Reeves brings us this sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes which, while in some ways inferior to its predecessor, still takes the action up a notch and jumps ahead a few years to bring us even closer to that post-apocalyptic future that Charlton Heston would eventually visit. Watching this film the other day, I had a good time. Not great, but good.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set 10 years after Rise. After being genetically enhanced in the last movie, Caesar the chimp, played through motion-capture by the smashing Andy Serkis, and his army of apes have moved into the Muir Woods where they’ve built themselves a home and live in peace after a virus has seemingly wiped out the whole of humanity. Caesar now has a family and is the proud leader of his kin. The sanctuary is disturbed, however, when humans do appear in the form a scout party led by Jason Clarke. He’s looking for a way to give electricity to what few humans are still alive and struggling to survive. They are quickly chased away by the chimpanzees.
The leader of the survivors, played by Gary Oldman, is determined to have Clarke’s team go back into the woods and negotiate with the apes – some of them have learned to speak without using (questionable) sign language, after all – and try to make them understand that the humans are in need of help. As you might imagine, things don’t go entirely in the right direction and the idea of peace becomes distant.
Although not great in terms of story, the movie does look utterly fantastic, but it sometimes succumbs to the common Hollywood habit of trying to look a little too perfect.
As CGI becomes more and more advanced in what it can achieve visually, Hollywood is simultaneously becoming more obsessed with showing off details; so much so that they ignore the laws of physics, mostly in favor of having as much light as possible land on the things they want the audience to notice. There’s a shot in Dawn where a chimp is standing in front of a fire and, sure enough, you can see each subtle detail in his magnificently rendered face, however he should just look like a black silhouette due to the amount of backlighting. I might start calling this the Peter Jackson Effect, as a reference to how overly polished and pretty the latest Hobbit film was. A textbook example, that.
But aside from this and some weird-looking subsurface scattering on Caesar’s son’s face, let’s be honest, the visuals in this movie are grade A, and it is only fair to give immense kudos to those who animated the apes – best-looking of all is Maurice the orangutan (Karin Konoval) – as well as Andy Serkis and his mo-cap co-stars for giving them character and likability. Any scene where conflict is stirred up between Caesar and his much more ruthless second-in-command, Koba (Toby Kebbell), I thought was absolutely terrific.
The human characters, on the other hand, I cared for far less. Their story arcs are mostly boring, none of them are particularly well-acted, sans that of Gary Oldman, and beyond being old “team member” archetypes, they do very little worth of note. The good-hearted leader is just the good-hearted leader, the black man that dies early is just the black man that dies early, the whiney teen is the whiney teen, the supportive wife is the supportive wife, and so on. Hell, Kirk Acevedo‘s character even says out loud at one point “I’m the asshole”. Thanks for keeping things clear, sir.
All things considered, is the film entertaining? It is, and it helps that the effects are indeed a terrific sight. There’s also this one tracking shot I really like that follows a spinning tank turret as an ape drives it through a blazing battle zone so there’s definitely some good camera work here. Go check it out; I’d say these artists deserve getting paid back for their tremendous accomplishment. I ultimately give it thumbs up and a 3.5/5 (the visuals alone, though, I’d rate much higher).