By Jay Sizemore
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may just be another in an endless series of Hollywood remakes, reboots, revamps, whatever you want to call them, but this is one series that is trying with all sincerity to trump the quality of the original movie arc. Let’s all just pretend that Tim Burton never made that one film, okay? Good, now we are all on the same page.
This sequel picks up ten years after the previous film, and the world has apparently descended into chaos, with much of humanity already wiped out, leaving loads more screen time for those adorable CGI apes. The ape leader is still Caesar, once again brought to life by motion-captured Andy Serkis, and man, just give that guy an Oscar already. Even if it has to be honorary, the dude deserves to be recognised. He’s brilliant as a character actor who never actually graces a screen without being cloaked in computer graphic skin. His performances still anchor the characters and bring them to such vivid life. I think it is a travesty he hasn’t been acknowledged by the Academy yet. Another great character in the film is Koba. Goodness, his face gives me chills.
At any rate, the meat and potatoes of this movie boils down to the remnants of humanity and a blossoming ape culture battling for resources. For the most part, the story is riveting and told in a competent way, despite some flaws in how effective the special effects can be when stretched over a two hour period, and in human characters that don’t ever feel as fleshed out as the CGI ones. When I talk about special effects being weak, I’m mainly talking about a moment in the opening scene, when for some reason the director thought it would be a good idea to use a CGI bear rather than a real bear, and the difference is just unbearable. Thank goodness that awful footage is brief, but it takes a while for the movie to make up for it.
I was pleasantly surprised at the movie’s message, which seemed to me to be a parable against gun violence. Caesar has a no gun policy in his ape utopia, and when humans show up with these weapons, the lesson of their intention is made violently clear. That intention continues to be played out through the inevitable plot development, and the more interaction the apes have with guns, the worse things get for everyone. This is not a movie the NRA is likely to endorse any time soon.
It’s easy to feel slightly disappointed in the execution of this film, because there are so many opportunities to improve upon it. I would have liked the human characters to be more than motivated by simple plot construction, and for their interactions to have felt less forced. I would have liked a few more moments inside the human camp, to get more of an empathic view of the terror and the struggle of their lives. I would have liked a scene of someone finding Charlton Heston’s grave, and prying a gun from his dead hands. But, hey, it’s an entertaining summer film with a message the world needs to hear, so I’m not going to complain too much. Keep the money-makers coming.
Jay Sizemore is a film critic for the magazine.