Ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, ape kind are living peacefully in the woods outside San Francisco, led by Caesar. Humankind is faring less well however, and when a group from the city venture into the woods to try and restore electricity to their colony, they encounter the apes, and both groups must try to find common ground.
I have to confess, I was not a fan of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, bit least because the film gives away all the secrets of the first franchise, but also because we know from the title that the film is going to be prelude. The same goes for Dawn…
The stars of the show, this time out, are the apes. Andy Serkis does a great job of bringing Caesar to life – even though the ape’s mo-cap eyes are still rather dead. Serkis makes the character feel fully rounded and real, with conflicts and passions and a healthy dollop of humanity. Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell, Karin Konoval and Nick Thurson also do well with the technology, making their characters feel fully rounded and relatable. The rest of the apes fade into the background, but that’s OK. The human cast is made up of Gary Oldman, who shouts a lot, Keri Russell and Jason Clarke. The humans do well with what they are given, but Dawn is truly a film where we learn of the humanity of the apes.
The script – written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver feels rather like a Shakespeare play; characters constantly betray one another, get in their own way and fight against one another when peace would be in all of their interests. In this way, the film feels incredibly familiar, leading to the film feeling frustrating and inevitable at times. Of course, the words ‘Planet of the Apes’ are in the title, so we know where the road is leading; of course, this is also part of the problem.
Matt Reeves directs capably, but fails to leave any sort of lasting impression in the film. Instead, the film feels as though its characters and Shakespearean tragedy of a plot swamp it. The pacing is a bit of a mess too, leaving the audience feeling almost every minute of the 130 minute running time. The set pieces are fairly well done, although there may be a little too much ape on ape fighting, and the sight of an ape riding a horse into battle (through flames) is almost too comedic not to be laughed at.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does exactly what it says on the tin. The story is often overly familiar, and the Shakespearean overtones – as well as the religious and anti-hate themes – often make the film feel overly wordy and overly preachy. Serkis does a great job as Caesar, and some of the set pieces are fun, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is generally badly paced, overly long and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. It’s an improvement on Rise, but not by much.