Latest in the ‘Apes’ franchise is an unconventional yet refreshing blockbuster

IN A PERIOD of cinema history where many franchises have been or are in the process of being rebooted or adapted by Hollywood, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a demonstration of what’s being done well. There certainly have been varying degrees of success in this field, with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the most recent Tom Clancy adaptation performing poorly at the box office to mixed reviews, while the Hollywood adaptation of Godzilla was extremely successful. Yet reception for this latest Apes film has been nothing but positive, being a successful summer blockbuster and receiving critical acclaim.

Yet despite the success of this film, the narrative  is quite unconventional. First is that the story primarily focuses on the lives of the apes, with them being the main characters and the humans being secondary to how the plot unfolds. Whilst this may follow in the footsteps of some of the 70’s spin-off ‘apes, it certainly doesn’t follow in those of the original starring Charlton Heston nor many of today’s modern science-fiction blockbusters, such as Transformers, which follow a much more human-centric plot. 

Secondly the film, unconventional for a blockbuster in its frequent use of subtitles, utilised when the apes are communicating via sign language. When talking about foreign films with many friends I find that frequently they complain about the use of subtitles, and that makes the plot harder to follow. Yet the success of the film clearly proves contradictory. 

Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-Caesar-eyes

“The film starts (as it also ends) with a shot of Caesar’s eyes which is haunting; and the pivotal second act action scene, lit up in flame is beautiful yet horrifying”

And despite these unconventional qualities, this film is remarkably engaging and thrilling throughout. The world portrayed is quickly set up in a credit sequence demonstrating the spread of the simian flu virus, which was shown to start to spread in the stinger to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It establishes both what the humans have been through, but also what the apes have observed over this same time, one civilisation rising as the other crumbles. The majority of the film is centred on the Apes living in the woods close to San Francisco, with the surviving human community trying to gain back civilisation be regaining power from a dam in ape territory. Leading the Humans is a paranoid Dreyfus played by Gary Oldman, and Malcolm played by Jason Clarke who makes more of an attempt to create an understanding between the two civilisations. This forms the basis for the inevitable conflict which the trailers have hinted and portrayed. 

Dawn is without a doubt visually breath-taking. This is evident in its special effects, not only with the use of motion capture to bring life to the apes (Caesar reprised again by Andy Serkis), but also how it is able to show a destroyed San Francisco and village in great detail. However it is not entirely special effects, the visual style is fantastic. The film starts (as it also ends) with a shot of Caesar’s eyes which is haunting; and the pivotal second act action scene, lit up in flame is beautiful yet horrifying. There certainly could be some debate as to whether this steals some of the thunder away from the final third act ‘set-piece’ which whilst is impressive is certainly predictable, it takes it to its logical conclusion without any convoluted plot twist to get there. Also there are definitely some long shots, such as following characters in a building whilst chaos unfurls and a shot on a tank turret rotating 360 degrees which I cannot help to liken to films such as Children of Men

There is certainly also significance in the timing with which this film came out and the themes running in it, with the Israeli military action in Gaza starting almost simultaneously to its release. With the film portraying the start of war, beginning because of none of the reasons why the apes and humans were already unfriendly to begin with; and down to the personal interests of one or even a few, not a whole society. It is certainly a sobering example of the needless and cruel nature of conflicts, and how they are driven not for the reasons claimed by leaders. There is undoubtedly a lot to be taken away from this. 

Unlike many of the original sequels in this franchise, this telling of how Apes took over the Earth remains thankfully compelling. Not only is the complex time travel element removed, but the portrayal of both societies are given enough depth and legitimate reasons to want to survive. With characters on both sides you want to care about you can’t help but watch both sides fight it out against each other. This well thought out plot and world building allowed this film to stand on its own well, and be a successful summer blockbuster, and not just be a generic sequel.