********* 9 out of 10 *********
Director: Matt Reeves
Actors: Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman
The origins of the Planet of the Apes franchise dates back to 1968. During the period from 1968 to 1973, five feature films were released as part of this franchise. While the first movie was well received, the rest of the movies did not elicit the same kind of response from the critics and the audience. In 2001, Tim Burton came out with a reboot of the original movie which did quite well commercially but was never considered on par in terms of quality with the 1968 flick. So with such a background to this franchise, it was indeed a bit surprising as well as risky to reboot the entire series with the prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011. We can just be glad they did! The film surpassed expectations, both commercially and in terms of critical acclaim, and that laid the groundwork for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the origins story equivalent to Batman Begins, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is akin to The Dark Knight as it similarly raises the bar to another level altogether. A gripping story which is perfectly executed that leaves you with not even a single moment to look the other way, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is right there on top with some of the best science-fiction films in Hollywood.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins ten years after the uprising of the apes shown in the previous film. The leader Caeser (Andy Serkis) now governs an ape community in the woods. The human civilization has meanwhile diminished due to the global outbreak of a virus. The remaining residents of San Fransisco are living in the protection of a guarded tower close to the woods. With their fuel supply running short for power generation, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his team need to enter the forest. But the apes are wary of the humans, and especially Koba (Toby Kebbell) who has suffered at their hands, holds a grudge. Is there a peaceful compromise possible? Or is a war imminent? Caesar’s decisions could change the shape of this planet.
When Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, exited the sequel, it was considered a serious setback, for after all it was Wyatt’s work that had gotten the interest back in the franchise. But new director Matt Reeves has not disappointed at all. Along with the screenplay writers (Mark Bomback along with the original writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver), Reeves has kept the essence of the previous movie very much alive, and has developed it further into an incredible story. There is a lot that follows from the first film, the difference in the attitudes of Caesar and Koba towards humans, the loyalties within the ape community that had been established before, and also some archival footage of James Franco’s character with Caesar that makes one nostalgic. Matt Reeves has now taken this storyline beyond, and charts a path for the planet to be in the state that we saw in the 1968 flick. By focusing more on Caesar and the ape community, he has skilfully rendered the humans as side characters, which keeps us closer to the “ape evolution”.
The plot of the movie has the atmosphere of an impending catastrophe. And yet it is so delicately handled, that the trigger remains well hidden. This adds to the nail-biting tension within the movie, where each scene seems to be possibly that ‘critical moment’. The editing of the movie is absolutely brilliant, and each shot keeps adding value to the overall picture. Try to keep your eyes away even for a minute, I dare you! Michael Giacchino ups the tempo and the drama of the film with an exquisite music score, which gives that extra edge to the entire narration.
The man of the moment though has to be Andy Serkis who plays Caesar, the leader of the ape colony, through the use of digital motion capture technology. He’s done it before in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and has played King Kong and Gollum too, so you can call him in an expert of sorts in the motion capture department. But be not mistaken that this is digital creation, for it is not. This is an actual performance; the facial expressions, the tilt of the heads, the movement of the bodies, it has been enacted by Serkis, captured, and ‘superimposed’ on Caesar. Serkis makes Caesar the leader you would want to follow, heroic and just, loyal to his fellow-apes and wise about humans. And along side him Toby Kebbell makes for a fearsome Koba, the ape with anger issues who you would want to keep a distance from. A dozen or so apes have been enacted by actors in the movie, such as Ceasar’s son and wife, and his loyal companions, Maurice and Rocket, while 2,000 other apes have been entirely computer generated. This has got to be some task for the visual effects department, and it has been pulled off marvelously to the minutest detail by them. There are a number of behind-the-scenes footage that can be watched to understand this process, but this one-minute clip should be good enough to give an idea on the acting that needs to go behind such characters.
Joining the apes is the human team led by Jason Clarke who puts in a complete performance as Malcolm, the one who bonds with the apes and understands them better than the others. His sincerity comes across well, and the bonding between Caesar and Malcolm is one of the highlights of the film. Gary Oldman plays the fellow leader of the surviving humans in San Francisco, though for such a talented actor, his role seems limited; nonetheless, he leaves an impact in whatever little is asked of him. Keri Russell is also part of the human team, and adds to the femininity in the film, though again little is demanded of her in the script.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has the right ingredients mixed together in the perfect proportion. Riveting till the very last minute, the movie has themes of heroism and leadership, friendship and love, along with displays of battle and even politics. It is best to watch this one with the knowledge of the previous film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A third installment, with Matt Reeves to helm it, has been announced for a 2016 release and now there is so much more to look forward to. This reboot franchise is definitely becoming one of the most spectacular series of the decade!