Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review: The film deserves an Oscar

Andy Serkis is God. That’s it. Those four words up there are pretty much all you need to hear in terms of a reason to go watch Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes in theatres.

Suprateek Chatterjee July 09, 2014 11:01:40 IST
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review: The film deserves an Oscar

Andy Serkis is God.

That’s it. Those four words up there are pretty much all you need to hear in terms of a reason to go watch Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes in theatres.

For those who are still reading, sure, we could talk about other aspects of the film, the second in the rebooted series of the franchise inspired by Pierre Boulle’s 1963 French novel Planet Of The Apes. For example, the direction by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) is absolutely top-notch. Reeves reportedly made significant changes to the story before coming in as a last minute replacement to Rupert Wyatt, who directed the first instalment.

In Dawn..., the story skips ten years ahead, to a time when humanity has largely been wiped out by ALZ-113, the lab-grown virus that was responsible for increasing the apes’ intelligence. Caesar (Serkis), the leader of the simian revolution, is now husband to Cornelia (Judy Greer) and father to the teenaged River (Nick Thurston) as well as a new-born. A new generation of apes has arrived and one can see how they seem to be inching towards civilisation in human terms. Aside from understanding and speaking bits of broken English taught to them by Caesar, they have learned how to ride, hunt, and live like early man.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review The film deserves an Oscar

A still from Dawn of the Planet of Apes. Image courtesy: Facebook page.

What about the humans, you ask? Oh, well, they’re…around. The exist in quarantined colonies that have somehow managed to save themselves from the pandemic, such as the one depicted in San Francisco in this movie. Dreyfus, the leader of the human survivors, is played by this film’s sole recognisable A-lister: Gary Oldman.

Meanwhile, the catalyst for the story – the inevitable friction between apes and humans – occurs when Malcolm (Jason Clarke) leads a team through the woods in which the apes reside while trying to access a dam that may give back the city its long-missing electricity supply.

It’s interesting to note how the film portrays subtle differences between the apes through speech patterns. Those who are close to Caesar, the most intelligent and evolved ape, tend to speak more silently through sign language; others choose to convey their feelings via guttural grunts accompanied by wild hand gestures.

Koba (Toby Kebbell), an aggressive older ape who harbours deep mistrust for the humans because they used him as a test subject for years, grunts while speaking to Caesar. However, when Koba wants to issue an order to the other apes, he speaks in broken English. If this isn’t an obvious reference to colonialism and cultural chauvinism, I don’t know what is.

Reeves utilises the thrill-a-minute skills he displayed so effectively in his earlier films to great effect in Dawn..., while still staying true to the sci-fi fantasy canvas required for a film like this. In effect, the film stays true to its predecessor’s style, which is perhaps disappointing if one was looking for Birdman-like pizzazz from this movie. However, this doesn’t stop Reeves from inserting some beautiful sequences that stay with you long after the film is done.

One particularly memorable set-piece involves the static point-of-view of a tank that gets hijacked by the apes as Michael Giacchino’s effective-but-never-overbearing score takes over. The script, by Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa, focuses more on what’s happening between all the dialogue rather than the dialogue itself – a wise choice for a movie like this.

But seriously, everything described above, as efficient and beautiful as it all is, pales in comparison to the genius that is the motion-capture performance by Serkis. In his second outing as Caesar, the British actor proves yet again why he is possibly the most underrated working character actor alive today. His smouldering expressions send chills down your spine – they’re human and yet so…primal. His tears of rage are palpable. When he raises his hand up as an indication for his followers to be silent (in a manner both Narendra Modi and Bal Thackeray would’ve been proud of), you know he means business. As this piece suggests, the brilliant CGI is all just a form of digital make-up. The emotions, the movements, the heart – that’s all acting.

Gollum, King Kong, Captain Haddock, Caesar. If motion-capture is the future of the movie business, Andy Serkis is the future of acting. If this movie gets nominated for even one Oscar, please oh please, let it be for this man.

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