Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(M) Fox Home Entertainment DVD/BD & Digital Download

In the dystopian, ALLZ-113 plagued world of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, ten years have passed since leaving the story of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of apes are thriving in the forests surrounding San Francisco. Humans are presumed to have died off through the catastrophic simian plague and war. Caesar has become an effective and respected leader of this former band of lab animals. The apes have developed a thriving community with family units, education and perceived unity for survival.

When the ape utopia is shattered via a violent confrontation with humans who have survived and are tentatively venturing into the forests, there is a collision of worlds that shakes the foundations of the leadership and lifestyle of both communities. The humans have been surviving in the dilapidated city, but need to find an energy source, the obvious answer being a hydroelectric dam located near the ape community.  The leader of the surveying human group, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), hopes to provide for the human survivors of the plague and strives to build diplomatic relations with Caesar and his wary community.

Caesar and Malcolm strive to maintain the balance for the sake of coexistence between man and ape. But for the reality of a peace accord to succeed, there must be trust between these two leaders. As peace and trust break down due to problems within each community (people and apes), it is up to both parties to stop a war that may wipe either species from the planet.

The brilliance of Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) direction is there is no need to pick sides between the apes and the humans, there are bad apples in both species to cause the delicate trust to break down. Skepticism and bitterness infect both communities and this is fuelled by the ape lieutenant, Kabo (Toby Kebbell) and the leader of the humans, Dryfus (Gary Oldman). Through the tangled web of mistrust and thirst for control, the film devolves into a battle for the city, but the ultimate battle is an internal one. The struggle within each group leads to a stand off between their respective leadership and leaves the film with a juxtaposition of separation or coexistence.

The challenge of this film is remembering that it is science fiction. The writers effectively spin a tale that is believable and convinces the audience it is plausible. As the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this story had the potential to paint a picture of the evils of humanity, the championing of science and preaching another environmentalist message, instead this is an intelligent thriller with amazing CGI effects. The effects will and should be celebrated by audiences, but they are merely a support for a well-constructed story. The storyline has a deeper message and does not paint mankind as the villain, but point to the darkness in the hearts of the its central characters.

There is an external battle between man and ape, but ultimately the potential evolutionary and environmental underpinnings are defused by deeper, internal messages of forgiveness and family. The strength of the narrative is grounded in a desire for trust and loyalty.

If anything has evolved in film making over the past few years it is the CGI actor. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings trilogy) has set the benchmark for acting through motion capture and deserves an award for his contribution to this film. He not only supplies the voice, but adds his physicality and acting abilities to Caesar. He and the other actors that portray the apes are pioneers, reminiscent of Lon Chaney (Original Phantom of the Opera), showing that special effects and make up can merely support great acting performances.

Besides the well written script, the performances deliver the strongest contribution to the film. The central characters deliver levity and warmth through the family moments and allow the audience time to care for them, regardless of species. The fragility of forgiveness within a family and a community and the importance of trust is shot through this cinematic experience. Not that the film leaves an unrealistic happily ever after feeling, on the contrary,  it does communicate the reality of the brokenness of this world and a need for hope in something or someone.

The film is set in a fictitious world of the battle between apes and mankind. War, brief language, battle scenes and suspenseful situations would make this suited for an older audience. Just because it has gorillas and apes in it does not make it a film for young children. It would be a great film for people to attend and come out and discuss the bigger questions of life.

To answer my friend, I would say, “Cheer for the good guys.” This film was a pleasant surprise. After working through my own preconceived misgivings with this series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes delivered a poignant message. Good story telling, top notch acting, amazing special effects and the bigger ideas of this film should put this on any recommended viewing list for 2014.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

1. Where can we find true forgiveness?  (Acts 2:38 & 13:38, Matthew 18:21-22)

2. What is the priority of family in your life? (Exodus 20:12, Colossians 3:18-21)

3. Where can we find hope in this broken world? (Acts 24:14-16, Romans 8:24)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum, and is a regular blogger. You can read his reviews at russellingreveiws.blogspot.com.au

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1 thought on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

  1. Margaret Middleton

    Thank you for this well-presented, insightful reveiw of this film. I was looking forward to seeing it, but now I await with eager anticipation of its screening somewhere near me.

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