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March 21, 2015

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by Franz Patrick


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

The so-called simian flu having wiped out half of the planet’s entire population, a small faction that remains, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), hopes to fix a dam and reactivate electricity. Doing so will allow them to send a transmission and reconnect with other survivors. However, the dam is located within the territory of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow apes, many of which have grown to fear and hate humans.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, is highly visually-driven, at times a feast for the eyes, but it lacks well-established human characters that function as Caesar’s sounding board. As a result, the story is only interesting up to a point and while the images are beautiful, the material is not emotionally involving overall. And with its overextended finale, it challenges the patience.

The computerized apes are convincing especially when their faces are front and center. There is a humanity in their eyes which is important because it helps us to buy into the gamut of emotions they have toward each other and those who threaten their existence. Perhaps most entertaining are the interactions between Caesar and Koba, the latter driven by revenge for having been treated badly by humans. Although both are apes, there is a significant difference between the way they act and reason. The former is very human-like while the other likens that of a rabid dog.

The apes eventually do speak but it is most effective when they communicate via sign language. With the latter, we get a sense of their camaraderie and culture. The former, on the other hand, comes across too forced. At times I found the speaking patterns to be uneven. For instance, earlier in the film, pronouns are uncommonly used. Later on, it is more prolific. Thus, the difference sounds jarring.

Malcolm (Jason Clarke), along with his girlfriend (Keri Russell) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), volunteer to go to ape territory and fix the machines that will enable the dam to work again. It is reasonable to expect that at least one of them will be a viable character worthy of exploration by the screenplay actively establishing subtleties and various shades with respect to human-ape relationships.

Instead, the changes that Malcolm goes through, if any, are quite elementary and so quickly presented that a believable arc is not created. And although there are instances when these characters are thrown into grave danger, I did not feel particularly moved by whatever fate awaits them. I grew worrisome of the possibility of yet another speech denoting how much they care about each other.

Directed by Matt Reeves, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” entertains on a visual level during the first hour or so but when firearms in the latter half get involved, there is a certain level of detachment often found in shoot-‘em-up action films. While I liked the subtle differences in firearm technical proficiency between apes and humans, this detail is not enough to save a limp, rather brainless third act.

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