Sunday, 20 July 2014

[REVIEW] - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)
Starring: Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Tony Kebbell, Keri Russell
Certificate: 12A
Run-time: 130 minutes

IN SHORT: Thoughtful, allegorical writing and a visceral exploration of conflict, elevates Dawn of the Planet of the Apes far beyond the average popcorn blockbuster.

Ten years after the events of Rise, humanity is facing near extinction as a Simian virus reduces cities to rubble. Caesar and his family of escaped apes are thriving though; untarnished by humans, they've forged a home in the dense forest. However, Caesar's peaceful community is threatened when a troop of human explorers, on their way to repair a disused dam, stumble upon their sanctuary. The very existence of these unwanted visitors doesn't sit well with many of the apes, apes who had been tortured and abused by humans in a previous life. On the other hand, the reopening of the dam offers the humans a chance of salvation and they're willing to risk everything for a chance to start again.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a natural but far grimmer continuation of the first movie. Humanity's desperation is visually explored through the brilliantly bleak set design as mother nature threatens to swallow the city below and finally reclaim her land. Burned out cars, anarchic graffiti and masses of overgrown ivy tell the tale of a hopeless, post-apocalyptic milieu. The lush forest-set community of the apes is a direct juxtaposition but the constant heavy rainfall compounds the feeling of dread and unease. The war between the species is inevitable but 'how' and 'why' the frayed relationship between humans and apes is broken, is the real tragic story.

Malcolm exploring the ape sanctuary in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2014

The movie has two, clearly defined, binary opposites; humans and apes, yet the script-writers intelligently blur the line between the species. Every character, whether human or ape, has sound, sympathetic reasoning for their actions. Even the archetypal 'bad guy', Caesar's ferocious right-hand Koba; a mesmeric, ticking time-bomb menacingly portrayed by Toby Kebbell, has an understandable motivation. Stunning motion capture work imbues these non-human characters with an impressive physicality. The emotion-filled eyes, their human-esque body language and the sign language they use to communicate with - it's all masterfully captured and suggests hours of painstaking work. The compelling performances from Serkis, Kebbell and co are the cherry on top.

Jason Clarke is the audience's human connection and his performance is a strong, endearing one. His character, Malcolm, has endured numerous emotional hardships in the aftermath of the virus and is desperate to build a future for his family. He also recognises the similarities between the apes and himself though. Unfortunately, the other human characters aren't blessed with roles as rich as Clarke's and thus, they feel a little under-explored. Gary Oldman is his usual charismatic, completely dedicated self but his role as Dreyfus is a bit part, serving only as an antithesis to Malcolm. And Keri Russell plays Jason Clarke's serviceable onscreen beau but nothing more than that. The neglect of the human characters can be forgiven though as the events of the film are mostly from the apes POV.

Jason Clarke captured in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Behind the camera, director Matt Reeves has succeeded in combining the intelligent, dramatic themes of the movie with an unrelenting, action-packed intensity. With a use of creative framing and shot selection, the action setpieces are thrilling and suspenseful in their delivery but also emotionally harrowing in the context of the story. Michael Giacchino's brilliantly realised score adds another layer to the movie too, changing from emphatic and cacophonous to delicate and subtle when needed. And discerning viewers out there might notice Giacchino borrow the occasional audio cue from some of the older Apes movies. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a rare breed of summer blockbuster. It's an important movie, not least because of its groundbreaking use of motion capture but also due to the unbelievably convincing performances that accompany the staggering effects. Dawn is not just visual gimmickry though and however much Reeves' WETA wizards excel with their digital dabbling, the gravitas of the movie would be lost upon a thoughtless script. Through thoughtful, allegorical writing and a visceral exploration of conflict, Dawn elevates itself far beyond the average popcorn blockbuster and joins the paragons of modern sci-fi.

Apes invading San Francisco in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Pretty much all of the posters I've featured as Poster of the Week have been typography-focused and loud. However the brooding teaser for Brad Pitt's winter release, Fury, is simply a fine example of a gorgeous, clean shot. This poster flouts conventional graphic design rules with its vast empty spaces and off-centre framing of Pitt, yet it masterfully evokes a sense of mood. I also love the creative placement of the title, sloppily painted on, partially hidden by Pitt's arm.

The film itself is equally exciting. An original script from director David Ayer (End of Watch, Harsh Times), Fury follows a sergeant and his men as they launch a final push in Nazi Germany and attempt to win the war. Ayer isn't the type of director to wimp out on violence, his other 2014 release Sabotage is testament to that, so expect unflinching grizzly realism. He's also adept at emotion though, with End of Watch containing its fair share of high drama.

Starring Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Shia LaBeouf and Jon Bernthal, the cast is extremely diverse. War epics and big-budget dramas are nothing new to Pitt but it's the rest of the cast I look forward to watching. This is definitely not in Logan Lerman or, to a smaller degree, Shia LaBeouf's comfort zone. And Jon Bernthal is always a captivating watch. Also, see if you can spot Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs, in the trailer below!



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