Bright shining Dawn
You’ll go bananas over this tense, thrilling sequel and its two primary primates.
WHATEVER your views on evolution vs creationism, humans have a lot more in common with apes, especially chimpanzees, than most care to admit. (Hey, don’t get all indignant on me; I’ll bet a few apes would be loath to acknowledge any similarities to humans, too.)
For example, both use sticks; they poke around for grubs to feed the group, we use them to take selfies to feed the group ego. Seriously though, there is community, but there is also class distinction and a male-dominated hierarchy.
Lately, chimps have even been observed to follow fashion trends. In a group of Zambian chimps, one female stuck a blade of grass in her ear for no observable reason; eventually, eight others in her group of 12 picked up on it, even after the original fashionista died.
With their hierarchical society, disputes tend to arise, and chimps often resort to intimidation to quell them. The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada’s website cites use of “gestures and postures to indicate threat, such as making hitting gestures, flapping hands in the air ... throwing objects. These gestures are often combined with vocalisations.” There you go.
And there is also turf war, infanticide and rape. So savagery is pretty much a common thread. And the one thing the early Planet Of The Apes movies (bless ’em) kind of got butt-backwards was in portraying gorillas as warmongers and chimpanzees as pacifists (to be fair, it was also like that in Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel which inspired the series).
Not so this rebooted incarnation of the franchise, which got off to a rockin’ great start in 2011 with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Chimps are firmly at the top of the food chain here, and it’s quite effectively demonstrated in an opening hunt sequence.
Ten years on (movie time), human society has collapsed after the “simian flu” unleashed at the end of the previous film wiped out most of our species. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of genetically-evolved apes have grown stronger and multiplied in the wilderness outside of San Francisco. Ape society is flourishing, and no one has seen a human in two winters.
But along comes Kirk Acevedo (Fringe, Oz) and basically, it’s “there goes the neighbourhood” time again. Acevedo plays Carver, part of a group of human survivors – genetically immune to the plague – who have taken up residence in San Francisco.
They’re looking to get the hydroelectric dam running again to power up their little community and hopefully, contact other survivors.
While the initial contact between the groups is harsh in tone and full of distrust, Caesar eventually establishes a fragile peace with Malcolm (White House Down’s Jason Clarke), but it turns out there are serpents even in Edens where all innocence is already lost.
Remember Koba (now a performance-captured Toby Kebbell), the brutalised animal-testing subject from the previous film? He has a much more prominent role here; his conflict with Caesar, especially their disagreement over how to treat the humans, forms the dramatic centre of the film.
Forget Malcolm’s heartfelt pleas for peace to his not-very-sympathetic leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), or even Dreyfus’ own angst-filled remonstrances and bottled-up grief, which gets uncorked very briefly but quite effectively.
It’s Caesar and Koba who form the primary protagonist-antagonist relationship of the film, and it’s quite a feat by cast and crew to make two performance-captured characters come to life so ... completely.
While Serkis’ expertise in the field is without question (Gollum, King Kong and Caesar 2011 would be a testament to his ability), Kebbell also has to be commended for doing a bang-up job convincing the viewer of how Koba’s years of pent-up rage and hatred twisted him out of shape.
It’s a classic case of nurture (for want of a better word) combining with the worst parts of nature to yield a cunning and cruel monster.
Some parts of the film don’t sit so well; for example, how the apes pick up their gun skills so easily, or that the human colony’s guards seem to be asleep or taking long cigarette breaks at the most opportune moments.
These narrative shortcuts, however, do not detract from the thoughtfully-made film, one of this season’s best offerings so far in terms of technical and storytelling achievements.
And I just have to mention Michael Giacchino’s excellent music score, a spiritual descendant of Jerry Goldsmith’s immortal contribution to the original. While not as emotionally impactful as Rise, Dawn still scores high marks for serving up such high-tension drama and exciting adventure and staying quite neutral, wisely steering clear of painting the apes as saintly New Age types or the humans as a bunch of ruthless buttheads.
After all, everybody’s just trying to get by and be happy, even if there are opportunists on both sides trying to exploit tensions to their own advantage. At least ape society shows that it knows how to deal with such disruptive elements – by making good use (or non-use) of an opposable thumb. Two of those, way up.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes presents three short films showing the events that occurred in the 10 years between Rise and Dawn.
Year 1: Spread Of Simian Flu
Year 5: Struggling To Survive
Year 10: Story Of The Gun