Saturday, 15 November 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Yes it seems to be official, Gary Oldman is apparently in everything! Much like the ALZ-113 virus he gets into everything and...errr kills it? no wait, analogy misfire here.

Following on from the first reboot of this classic franchise with this new cracking title we now see the results of simian flu as its wipes out most of humanity across the globe. Only pockets of people who are naturally immune to the disease are left to try and rebuild whatever they can from their former existence as the dominant species on Earth. In the mean time Caesar and his ape companions have evolved further living in a big Ewok village just outside San Francisco, they don't want war but will fight if they have too.

Right first things first...holy piles of elephant dung this movie looks good! and when I say good I mean sumptuous. The first shot is a close up of Caesar's glaring eyes as his pack stalk prey on the hunt. To say this image is haunting is an understatement, you'd think it was an actual person! in fact I don't even know if it was CGI! (probably was). This first sequence sets up the rest of the movie clearly showing you the effects have been pumped up vastly (they're on steroids) and we are now easily on terms with Kubrick's space odyssey. That's not to say director Reeves doesn't know this...oh he knows and he takes full advantage with some very familiar sound bites that hark back to the beginning of man in that little space flick. You can hear the same type of choir usage in the opening sequences and in the end with heavy orchestral beats hammering it home just in case you're a bit mutton. Yes its not exactly original or very subtle but it certainly sounds epic and works well. As the apes swing through the thick mist swept trees and foliage bearing down on their kill you can't help but be mightily impressed. The whole thing looks and sounds like something that should be from Arthur C. Clarke's seminal sci-fi novels if adapted now...its almost too good looking for this silly franchise.

This is not the only epic shot or sequence within the movie, the emotions expressed by Caesar and various other ape characters is pretty darn amazing. People are saying Serkis should get an Oscar for his performance but admittedly I really don't know where he ends and the CGI blokes take over. The general movement of the mammals is very very good but lets be honest here, there are many dancers and performers that could probably do that. What really impresses is the CGI work on the fur, wet fur especially and everyday movements  and emotions in the ape faces. There are times when you think you're watching a real chimpanzee it looks so good, Koba especially looks very realistic with his mottled skin. The large orangutan is another highly realistic looking creation as are the gorillas. Some chimp characters are more obvious than others strangely, mainly the lead characters like Blue Eyes don't look as good, the female apes aren't as good either, Caesar on the other hand looks the most human (I guess that makes sense). Is it me or does Caesar actually look like a bearded Charlton Heston in this flick?!

Not only do the apes look good the locations and sets look tremendous too! The ruined San Francisco looked...real! it genuinely looked like they trashed the place for the movie. Its within Frisco that most of the big action takes place too and again I can't deny it looks very grown up and very real. This is most definitely not your average summer blockbuster affair for the scroats oh no, this is a proper science fiction tale with gritty visuals. Is there anything more terrifying than seeing a bigass rampaging crazy chimpanzee upon a charging horse wielding a big assault rifle?? Let me rephrase that, is there anything more terrifying than seeing a crazy bigass chimpanzee upon a charging horse wielding a big assault rifle...and it knows how to shoot the thing quite accurately!!! Especially when the chimp in question is Koba who lets be a scary looking motherfucker. Oh...where did they get all the horses??

On one hand the battle sequences are viscerally exciting and pretty brutal with lots of grand slow motion shots of certain apes looking both macho and intimidating. On the other hand I couldn't help but feel uneasy at the entire thing, here I am watching all kinds of apes getting blown to shit and mown down by automatic gun fire as if it were 'Saving Private Ryan'...but with apes. Should I be enjoying this? I felt sorry for the apes and didn't really enjoy watching them die like humans...I know how that sounds but animals are different to us in movies, don't like to see them killed. I guess feeling sorry for the apes was the idea as most had been forced and tricked into a grisly war.

It did make me chuckle a little bit at the start though, the humans in Frisco could of easily wiped out all the apes in a matter of minutes seeing as they were all tooled up, game over. The apes only had spears at the time, plus the main lead human character could of spoken to Caesar right there and then instead of encouraging trouble by disobeying the apes line in the sand ultimatum. Why didn't they ask the apes about the dam right at the start when they had the face-off, perfect time, instead he goes off later into their village pissing them off even more. I also must ask how many apes there actually were! I know in the first movie many escaped from the zoo and test facility but Jesus there are apparently hundreds upon hundreds of them! Most get killed in the Frisco siege yet there are still tonnes of em', a literal army of apes, did seem a bit implausible even with ten years of breeding.

Lets not get ahead of ourselves though, this isn't a cheap action flick with cheap moments of gun totting cheese...OK there are one or two moments of convenient cheese, but not much. On the whole this movie delivers in depth levels of powerful human qualities such as leadership diplomacy acceptance wisdom authority loyalty and honour...with CGI monkeys. The gamut of emotions we see Caesar dealing with against the humans from anger and spite, to realisation of his own kind and finally acceptance that his apes are not better than humans after all is incredibly poignant. Of course on the flip side we see all the negative aspects of the human race played out via Koba.

It does all seem very much like a science fiction movie...which it is, but when you look into ape (chimp) behaviour its actually quite an eye opener to see that they can be quite vicious to one another. Some of the facial expressions you see displayed by Koba are very accurate which is pretty daunting. I will admit I didn't totally enjoy the very end as it seemed too much of a weak acceptance by the apes for pending war, I'm sure the remaining humans could easily speak up for them seeing as what happened was only confined to a small area. I did enjoy the fact there weren't any cliched baddie human characters for once but unfortunately Reeves seemingly couldn't resist an over the top setting for the final battle.

End of the day this does feel a bit like yet more filler or padding for the real focus of the franchise which is all out war between humans and apes. I do kinda feel they could of gotten to that point already instead of stretching it over two movies. But truth be told this is a rip-roaring science fiction adventure that not only betters the original by a good country mile, it also manages to be one of the best science fiction movies to come along for some time (yes its even better than all this comicbook fluff).