Review: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 4 July 2014


A remarkable sequel to the 2011's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES that is both thrilling and heartfelt.

When RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES first arrived in the summer of 2011, I didn't expect much from this reboot. But director Rupert Wyatt as well as his talented cast and crew managed to defy the odds and surprised me with this excellent sci-fi blockbuster in many ways. It was no doubt one of the best big-budget reboots ever made in a long while, and more importantly, it also effectively erased the bad memory I had for Tim Burton's awful remake of 2001's PLANET OF THE APES. But when Wyatt opted to bow out of the sequel because of the rushed production schedule, my hope is almost lost until the studio (Fox) made a right choice handling the franchise over to Matt Reeves, who previously directed two excellent movies, CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010).

Over the past 10 years since the events of the first movie, the ALZ-113 virus or better known as simian flu has almost wiped out every mankind around the world. The apes, in the meantime, led by Caesar (voiced by Andy Serkis) continues to prevail and now living together as a close-knit community in a jungle outside the ruined city of San Francisco. They survive by hunting animals and live with a strict policy that "ape will not kill ape". Then one day, they encounter a small group of human survivors, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) somewhere in the jungle. One of the humans end up firing a shot at a young ape named Ash (Larramie Doc Shaw). The apes are about to retaliate but Caesar orders the humans to leave instead. Caesar's trusted lieutenant, Koba (Toby Kebbell) doesn't particularly feels easy about the way Caesar being soft-hearted for the humans. While Caesar made peace with the humans, Koba finds way to prove to Caesar that he's wrong to trust the humans and should be fighting war against them instead.
From directing some of the popular TV series including Homicide: Life on the Street and Felicity to two feature movies, Matt Reeves has certainly proven his worth as a robust filmmaker who is able to tackle different genres with relative ease. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES marks his first foray into big-budget studio production and Reeves does a great job handling it like a seasoned pro.

Blessed with a solid script by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback, Reeves takes his time developing the storyline and make us care for the characters. Like the first movie, the central conflict between the apes and the humans remains as engaging as ever. But what makes the sequel significantly powerful is the way Reeves and his team of screenwriters expanding the story wider by showing the internal tension between the level-headed Caesar and the vengeful Koba because of their different mindsets on how human should be treated. Somewhere in between, the story also strongly emphasized on relatable themes such as trust between two parties (in this case, the truce between the apes and the humans), family values (especially the touching scene involving Caesar, her injured wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), teenaged son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and their newborn baby) and political subtexts that reflects our current society (such as the "no-gun" control scenario).

Visually speaking, the movie is beautifully shot by Michael Seresin while Reeves understands that smooth fluidity of a camerawork allows the viewers to enjoy the scene properly (one of the best cameraworks worth praising here is the brief but captivating point-of-view shot from the side of a tank turret as Koba navigates the vehicle during the combat sequence), rather than falling prey into shaky-cam technique usually done by many filmmakers nowadays. The special effects are top notch and no doubt some of the best I've ever seen so far in 2014. But the motion-capture animation of the apes is the one that amazes me the most. While the first movie already did a great job constructing a lifelike CGI apes, the sequel improves the effect even better. Kudos also goes to Michael Giacchino for his excellent music score that is both majestic and emotionally penetrating.

Likewise, Andy Serkis steals the show as Caesar. I truly admired the level of commitment that Serkis brought to his character especially the way he conveys his emotions through expressive eyes, body language and subtle voice performance. Toby Kebbell delivers rousing performance as the rebellious Koba, particularly in the late scenes where he becomes increasingly violent and more heartless towards his own community as well as the humans. The human actors, in the meantime, are equally competent with Jason Clarke and Keri Russell ranks as the best of the lot.

The nearly-wordless opening sequence where Caesar communicates with his apes through sign languages and leads an all-out animal hunt around the jungle; the disturbing scene where Koba first appears to be playful in front of the two humans before ended up shooting them in cold blood; the spectacular nighttime attack between Koba and his army of gun-toting apes battling against the humans; and the tense showdown between Caesar and Koba atop the tower.

While Reeves manages to prove himself as a well-worthy director for this sequel, there's a nagging feeling that he's holding back his direction when comes to action sequences. Although there's nothing wrong for a director to show a sense of restraint to avoid excess or gratuitous display, Reeves could have make the sequel more exciting by elaborating some of the action sequences further. Case in point here, is the thrilling finale which feels kind of short-lived.

Despite the inspired casting of Gary Oldman in this sequel, Reeves made a mistake of sidelining him for a major bulk of the movie. After all, what's the use of casting such competent actor like Gary Oldman if he ends up being underutilized?


It's hardly perfect, but DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES still manages to impress a lot with a well-made sequel that nevertheless qualifies as one of the best summer movies of 2014.

* This review is written courtesy from 20th Century Fox Malaysia press screening *

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