Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Fantastic special effects and a strong story can’t always be found together. 2011’s catchily titled Rise of the Planet of Apes managed this and became an unexpectedly great film. Each character’s motivation was clear, James Franco wasn’t annoying and the impressive mixture of CGI and performance capture gave Caesar and the others apes life to a degree we hadn’t seen on film before.

Does Dawn (wouldn’t the rise come after the dawn?) live up to its predecessor, mixing a clever story with awe-inspiring scenes? Yes and no. I’m quite torn on it.

If I didn’t know any better I would have thought the apes were real. Scarily real at times. This film contains the most impressive CGI I’ve ever seen, no doubt helped by the performances of Andy Serkis and the other performance capture artists. Caesar, Koba and Blue Eyes in particular are fantastic, their respective actors making even the underused Gary Oldman look dull in comparison. Large parts of the film contain purely ape to ape moments. They live, love, teach and argue; and I could have watched an entire movie of that. Maybe that would have been stronger as the humans don’t do anything that interesting.

Despite the 12a certificate, this is not a film for children. Several scenes contained a level of violence I would not feel comfortable exposing a child to. The f-bomb is dropped too, further taking it out of the realm of being a family film.

I want to love this film. For it’s technological achievements alone it deserves all the praise it’s getting and more. The problem is…what does it really say? We know that the apes and the humans aren’t going to magically patch up their differences, or there wouldn’t be more films, much less a link from these films to the original. The problem with prequels is inevitability. Rise gave us something we’d not seen before, but Dawn is marching ever closer to what we know.

Maybe Dawn could overcome the inevitability? It nearly does via some touching and interesting scenes of the apes and their own civilisation, juxtaposed against the humans and their plight. Mistrust and self-destructive tendencies don’t confine themselves to humans it seems. The emotions on display are strong and heartfelt.

Jaw-dropping visuals and great performances can’t turn this into a great movie on their own though. As it stands it’s merely a good one. The apes rule this film. It’s a shame the humans weren’t given the same chance to shine. But they aren’t mentioned in the title.

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