The Planet of the Apes franchise has reached a profound turning point since its reboot in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Its latest installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second release in the series directed by Matt Reeves, offers a thoughtful, compelling drama that stands out in an otherwise middling summer movie season.
It’s been a decade since the simian virus decimated the human population, and the collapse of civilisation left the scattered survivors in disarray. The genetically evolved apes, meanwhile, have formed a community under Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) command, shaping a society with their own set of rules and morals. But when a band of humans — who are on a mission to fix a nearby dam and restore electricity to the area — stumble upon the apes’ settlement, tensions soar after a trigger-happy man wounds one of the apes. And with both sides wary of each other and preparing for battle, opinions divide within the camps sparking the debate as to whether they should go to war or not.
Caesar and his troops confront the human colony that is led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), and warn them not to return to the land of the apes. “Apes do not want war, but will fight if we must,” Caesar warns. And it is fairly obvious which one of those alternatives will eventually come into play.
On the surface, the premise isn’t exceptional. The post-apocalyptic setup is far from novel, and the dystopian science fiction elements, including the opening news montage, seem all too familiar. Luckily though, the plot has been employed to compelling effect, creating a tacit portrait of the human race and offering a glimpse of conflicts, both internal and external, that dictate actions and choices.
The film combines great visual effects with the acting talent of the dependably brilliant Andy Serkis, who brings Caesar gloriously to life on screen and creates an intriguing, memorable character whose development the viewers are emotionally invested in. Meanwhile, Toby Kebbell is also impressive as Koba, Caesar’s second in command.
The human characters, on the other hand, don’t get an equal chance to make an impact. Viewers don’t get to know or empathise with them as much as they could have. Jason Clarke has the most prominent role as Malcolm, the leader of the expedition into ape territory, who forms a bond with Caesar, and plays his role quite well. Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee, who portray Malcolm’s wife and son respectively, and even the generally terrific Gary Oldman, play parts that are somewhat clichéd and underwritten, and are consequently outshined by the apes.
Nevertheless, the project has, on the whole, been put together with intelligence, which is why the movie doesn’t fail to be riveting for its entire two-hour running time. Caesar’s inner conflict is emotionally resonant, and the tug of war between the feelings of trust and distrust make for fascinating viewing. And while the ending is more of a nudge to the next installment than a proper conclusion, the journey that brings us to this point is rather enaging.
Sameen Amer is a Lahore-based freelance writer and critic. She tweets @Sameen
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 10th, 2014.
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