Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by Mark Woodhouse

Rated M. Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman. Directed by Matt Reeves.

[Stars:  2.75/5]

If there’s a film about an animal, I probably won’t want to see it. Babe? Meh. Stuart Little? Shrug. 101 Dalmatians? That’s way too many Dalmatians. 

So when I walked into this film about an army of apes, I wasn’t too excited. 

But what struck me about the apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in particular was how human they are. They almost seemed more human than the humans! There’s nothing that shows our humanity like seeing it another creature.  

Dawn takes place a decade after Rise of the Planet of the Apes (the backstory is totally explained, so you don’t need to have seen Rise before seeing Dawn). A deadly Simian Virus has wiped out huge proportions of the human population. We pick up the action with the thriving colony of apes established by Caesar (Serkis) questioning whether or not humans have survived. They come across a small band of human survivors in San Francisco who are struggling to rebuild, and inevitably there’s conflict. There’s nothing surprising in the plot, there’s nothing surprising in the action scenes, and there’s nothing surprising in the cast (Andy Serkis seems doomed to spend the rest of his life in green-and-pingpong-ball motion-capture suits). 

But despite this, I did enjoy this film for what it is: a visually stunning, well-produced action film.

The visual effects are particularly impressive. The apes appear more life-like than ever, and not once did they seem to me to be computer-generated. They look, sound and move like apes. The magnificent scenery and a post-apocalyptic, overgrown San Francisco are similarly brilliant.

There is some depth to Caesar’s character, but there are so many characters (and so much action) vying for attention that there’s not enough time to develop much depth in any of the other characters. This means that most of the characters are stereotypical and predictable. While we do get a glimpse into the reasons behind the somewhat extreme actions taken by a number of the characters, the fact that they are so one-dimensional makes them seem even less real.

I think the film wanted to make me think about good and evil, about sticking with your tribe, about trusting others. But really, I felt that the characters were too thin to really draw me into the story. 

However, I did really enjoy watching the apes interact with each other, especially in the first part of the film. As viewers, we really have no idea what they’re capable of and how far they’ve progressed since the end of the last film.

How intelligent are they? How organised, how trustworthy, how mischievous are they? We just don’t know! The first part of the film very skillfully reveals their abilities simultaneously to us and the human characters. 

Caesar is easily the character with the most depth, and I think this is what saves the film. We saw him as a revolutionary in Rise, but in Dawn, he has become a real leader of his community. We see him struggle to maintain peace in the community and between apes and humans. We see him trying to teach and love his son. We see his anguish as his wife lies ill. We see his rage as his authority is challenged.

Caesar knows that in order to warn the humans off war, he needs to show strength and power – check out the trailer for an example of intimidating ape strength! He knows too that apes respect and follow the strong.

‘Apes! Together… strong!’

We have no one who is stronger to follow than Jesus, who became weak for our sake.

Philippians 2 says Jesus: 

…made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!

Why would we follow someone so weak that they were killed on a cross? Because he didn’t stay dead!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.

Though Jesus made himself weak, God has elevated him to the very highest authority, with every knee bowing to him. There is no show of strength greater than this!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an entertaining yet unsurprising film that will probably deliver exactly what you expect from a movie of this genre. I’m sure it’ll be a hit. I’m giving it two and three-quarter stars.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will be released in Australia this Wednesday 9th July, in the US this Friday 11th July, and in the UK Thursday 17th July.

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