The eyes. The eyes are the hardest to capture. Look at Avatar: Despite the leaps in technology that were showcased, Sam Worthington’s eyes still looked dead. The opening shot of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, however, the slow zoom out of Caesar’s eyes (Andy Serkis), look more than alive. They look real. That was confidence. The uncanny valley has become narrowed. It’s this confidence, this success that sells the movie. This is the best movie of the year.
By all accounts, this is a near perfect film. From the script to the direction, and most of all, the performances captured, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a gripping, simple, yet relatable film. The story follows the human survivors and ape community equally. Both sides mostly want peace, but fear each other, keeping their relationship tense. I say mostly because the movie takes a classic approach, showing how one person’s — or ape’s — hatred and thirst for revenge can have repercussions for generations. Boiling down the story, there’s nothing new or original that hasn’t been done dozens of times before. War, at least the cause of it, never changes.
Andy Serkis’s Caesar was beyond believable, he was real. Every time he paused, silently contemplating, his pain and the burden of leadership were apparent. In every possible way, Serkis stole the show. His growing relationship with Malcolm (Jason Clarke) was palpable and sad. It was painful watching the delicate dance that the two performed, knowing how much hinged on their words. The two had wonderful chemistry that was heartbreaking when it came to an abrupt end.
Another smart choice that must be mentioned was the ape design. The major ape characters — Caesar, Koba (Toby Kebbell), Blue-Eyes (Nick Thurston), and Maurice (Karin Konoval) — all had unique attributes, making them instantly distinguishable. A smart move.
I can name exactly two flaws with the movie. I know that sounds like nitpicking, but I think both are good examples of many things wrong with modern story telling. The first was an early line from one in the human group about Keri Russell’s character, Ellie. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), asked if there was a chance they could contract the simian flu after first contact. Ellie said no, another butted in, asking how she could be sure, and a third interjected, saying how in a previous life she worked for the CDC (Center for Disease Control), and would know. This line stuck out because it felt forced. No one else’s past life was mentioned once, except for an occasional deceased family member. Malcolm never declared how he was the man for the job of human-ape liaison due to his past life as an ambassador/scientist. There was no need. Who they were didn’t matter: This was a new world. The entire line was superfluous. This is the problem with many stories: over-explanation. Show, don’t explain. Audiences will figure it out. Moreover, dialogue such as that is clunky. No one talks like that.
Second was an escape scene in the third act. Humans were climbing out of a cage over razor wire. That was simply careless attention to detail that stuck out poorly amongst the other finely tuned notes. Again, I’m not trying to nitpick, but when creators nail nearly every aspect, the missed ones are more apparent.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fantastic movie that I can’t wait to revisit. Serkis was completely mesmerizing. The simple, yet identifiable plot is one that shows how everything can easily go wrong. Even if you haven’t seen Rise, make a point to see this, if not for the performances or story, then because it has an ape duel-wielding machine guns on a horse. Also, Maurice is awesome.
Did Serkis captivate you? Think the plot was too simple? Comment below!
In addition to THN’s Saturday Morning Cartoons and Nerd at the Movies, Tony writes for his own site, thecredhulk.com, about comics, video games, movies, TV and more, six days a week. You can follow his updates on Facebook or Twitter. Drop by and tell ’em hi.
Who was Dawn? Why was she so important?