Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

This poster is misleadingly 'war; fuck yeah!'
This poster is misleadingly ‘war; fuck yeah!’

“One Last Chance for Peace”

Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman

Ten years after the collapse of human civilisation in the wake of the simian flu pandemic, Caesar’s (Serkis) peaceful ape colony is thriving in the Muir Woods. When humans enter their territory seeking to restore a hydroelectric dam, however, old tensions and old hatreds threaten both groups with destruction.

Because everything looks more sincere on a horse.
Because everything looks more sincere on a horse.

Caesar and his counterpart Malcolm (Clarke) see good in each other, but each side has a more suspicious, military mind, in the form of human leader Dreyfus (Oldman) and the scarred former lab subject Koba (Toby Kebbell), who can only see enemies. Dreyfus prepares for war, but in the end it is Koba who starts it, attempting to assassinate Caesar to precipitate the conflict and murdering or imprisoning apes who will not accept his lead.

Malcolm and his wife Ellie (Keri Russell) struggle to nurse Caesar back to health and end the bloodshed, but Koba will not go easily, and Dreyfus plans a more explosive denouement.

What’s wrong with it?

As the film opens, we see the ape civilisation, which is basically a high-end caveman setup, with a wooden fort, spear-wielding hunters and the little ladies staying home. Now, there is some biological sense in this, since non-human higher primates have a high level of sexual dimorphism, with females significantly smaller than males. On the other hand, chimps are working side-by-side with gorillas, and the females are wearing veils.

Similarly, Ellie is the only human female of significance, and primarily plays backup to Malcolm.

The apes ability to grasp the use of firearms is astonishing, matched only by the speed with which their horses adapt to the noise and smell of battle (as opposed to the hunt) without freaking the shit out.

This is Ape Law: Ape not kill ape Apes together strong Knowledge is power Complex grammar is weakness Mike and the Bots must watch a terrible movie
This is Ape Law:
Ape not kill ape
Apes together strong
Knowledge is power
Complex grammar is weakness
Mike and the Bots must watch a terrible movie

What’s right with it?

Oh, Mama this film is beautifully made. The opening plays so like a documentary that I almost gave it a pass on the veils before I remembered that these are motion-captured CGI creations, and the unrelenting slate-grey, rain-soaked palette drives in that sense of reality when compared to the brighter colours of many films. It’s like action movie noir.

Despite being CGI, the apes look much, much better than the costume characters in the last attempt to remake this bad boy.

The film manages an effective tract on the nature of fear and hatred, with Koba, unable to forgive the humans whose long-dead relatives tortured him in a lab, mirroring Carver (TVs Kirk Acevedo), a human survivor who blames apes for the simian flu. While Carver is introduced through that fear, Dreyfus and Koba are first shown to be sensible leaders at peace with the world, before the emergence of the object of their hate drives them into a spiral of destruction. In a lot of ways, Koba is the tragic antihero of the film.

It is telling that, despite the best efforts of our heroes and the deaths of Koba, Carver and Dreyfus, hate wins, with the apes returning to the forest to prepare for war with the approaching human military, and Caesar forced to compromise his ideals to defend his people. You don’t get that kind of ending much in a big budget movie.

How bad is it really?

It’s not bad at all, and is mostly included here as the remake of a much loved, but not very good, series of B-movie classics, not to mention a badly botched attempted remake. As with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I continue to be impressed with the reversal of the classic storyline, which enables the film to both hail back to the original and to do something that isn’t new, exactly – it loosely matches events in Battle for the Planet of the Apes – but is far removed from attempts to retread the more familiar space/time travel narrative.

Best bit (if such there is)?

  • The battle sequence, where Koba’s forces rush the human gate, combines frantic frantic action with a surprising number of character moments, from Koba’s reckless courage to a gorilla who is focused on getting the wounded under cover.
  • Faced with two human guards, Koba acts the clown to put them at ease. As he heads away from them, he drops to his knuckles, and his face shifts into an expression of pure hatred.

What’s up with…?

  • The apes reinventing the hijab? Where is this notion of shame and modesty coming from? It’s not like any of them wear pants.

Ratings

Production values – Just… gorgeous. 0
Dialogue and performances – Given how much of the film only has sign language and subtitles, and is performed by mo-cap actors overlaid with CGI apes, there is a level of subtlety and nuance here that can not help but impress. The only problem I have is with the ape dialogue and its lack of complex grammatical forms. From their signing, they seem to know grammar, but they talk aloud like Tarzan. 6
Plot and execution – For a while, the plot appears to divide into two entirely unrelated threads, one of the apes making peace with the humans, the other with both sides preparing for war. In truth, the film is about the conflict between these two plots, one of which is the narrative that Malcolm and Caesar want to write for the world, the other that which Dreyfus and Koba desire. With a real sense of tragedy (in the strict dramatic meaning), the film plots the apparently inevitable course to war between two species with a history of abuse, and manages to make an ape the instigator and still have the apes as a whole be the good guys. 4
Randomness – What is up with the veils? That is really, really bothering me. Likewise the apes natural affinity for firearms. 5
Waste of potential – There is very little wasted potential here, although I think it is a shame that a film with such a strong message about hate and prejudice puts most of its female characters squarely in the corner. 6

Overall 21%

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