Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Distrust is a dangerous and volatile thing and Reeves' film shows how it is this rather than grandstanding gestures that often lead to conflict."

In a world not many years from now, the population has been riven by a laboratory created simian flu that has wiped out all but a small enclave of naturally immune humans, while unbeknowst to them, the apes under the guardianship of super-intelligent Caesar have flourished. As for equality? Whatever your genetic coding, it's dead in the water. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes may in many ways be about the animal in the human and the human in the animal but also, if its storyline is to be believed, in the event of an Apocalypse, women better forget about having any sort of a role in society other than as nurturing mother figures, whose input is sidelined.

Matt Reeves' film - written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver - firmly sets up camp in testosterone territory. Women? Just stay at home and mind your knitting. You could say that this is a deliberate choice and part of the writers' vision of how society might look, but still the lack of any sense of what the women of either species do all day feels like an oversight. But in virtually every other respect, the latest instalment of the franchise is impressively thoughtful and intelligent.

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In downtown San Francisco, a group of human survivors, led by an ex-soldier named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman in a surprisingly small role), have devised a plan to secure their power by re-activating a dam station. But when a group, led by Our Hero Malcolm (Jason Clarke) heads into the forest they stumble on Caesar's kingdom. The question becomes not whether war will break out but which of the two sides - simian, human, or both - will be the ones to initiate it and what, if anything, Caesar and Malcolm can do to mitigate it.

Caesar - beautifully rendered by Andy Serkis and CGI that is so realistic you never doubt you are looking at an ape - is a pacifist at heart. His youngsters learn the phrase, "Ape not kill ape" at school and he also recognises that fighting is not a clean business, but involves blood loss on both sides. His problem is that his second in command, Koba (Toby Kebbell, also doing wonderful work), has felt the full brutality of humans in a lab. "Scars make you strong," he tells Caesar's juvenile and impressionable son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) forgetting to mention that they can also make you more vengeful than Maggie Thatcher in a miners' strike.

Distrust is a dangerous and volatile thing and Reeves' film shows how it is this rather than grandstanding gestures that often lead to conflict. Audiences certainly won't have to watch the TV news for too long to see the truth of this being writ large in real death tolls across the globe right now. Also, in a reflection of many of the current warzones, the film explores how a rogue element can start all-out conflict if cooler heads don't prevail - the fear of 'terror' is a strong driver, whatever your species. While Michael Bay might be transforming machinery into robots, Reeves shows how easy it is for the peaceful to be transformed into the warmongering.

As you would expect from a summer blockbuster, there is plenty of action and there's no denying that a scene in which Koba manages to disposses a human of his sub-automatic is blackly comic. But the emphasis more generally is on the tragedy of war. When the fighting occurs, we are not hoping for the next most grisly bit of action but that all the characters get through it unscathed. The strong dad and son dynamic and the theme of the betrayal of friends lend the film an epic, Shakesperean sweep and when apes, in particular, die, there is no sense of triumphalism, only tragedy. This is a film about tribalism in both a positive and negative context that offers plenty to chew on for those of us privileged to be part of the most successful - and potentially deadly - tribe of all.

Reviewed on: 16 Jul 2014
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Caesar's apes find themselves on the brink of war with human survivors of simian flu.
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Director: Matt Reeves

Writer: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, based on characters by Pierre Boulle

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Larramie Doc Shaw, Lee Ross

Year: 2014

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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