Serenity review

SERENITY

Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Diane Lane, Jeremy Strong, Rafael Sayegh
Genre: Drama/Thriller/Mystery
Run Time: 1 h 46 mins
Opens: 21 February 2019
Rating: M18

           Interstellar stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway reunite under extremely bizarre circumstances in this neo-noir thriller, which is already being called the worst film of 2019.

McConaughey plays Baker Dill, a fisherman on the idyllic Plymouth Island who takes tourists out to sea on his fishing boat, the Serenity. Baker’s ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrives on the island, asking Baker to kill her current husband, the abusive Frank (Jason Clarke). The plan is to get Frank drunk during a fishing trip and throw him overboard. Baker is initially resistant to the plan, but eventually feels he owes it to his and Karen’s son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) to free Karen from Frank’s grip. A tale of murder, madness and vengeance unfolds in paradise as Baker soon finds himself in way over his head.

Within days of opening in the U.S., Serenity’s badness has become legendary: the movie was a box office bomb that marked the lowest openings in McConaughey and Hathaway’s careers. Distributor Aviron gave up on marketing the movie altogether, cancelling planned publicity events and talk show appearances for its stars.

Is Serenity as bad as everyone is saying? Short answer: it is. Writer-director Steven Knight set out to make a “sexy noir” thriller, and for the first hour or so of the movie, it comes across as awkward and slightly melodramatic but never offensively bad. Then, as things ramp up and the plot reaches a crescendo, the film builds to a baffling, staggering twist ending. It’s a twist that truly must be seen to be believed, the kind of reveal that nobody could have ever thought was a good idea.

The movie feels like a hybrid of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and 90s erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct and The Colour of the Night. The film was shot in Mauritius and setting it on a remote island away from the madding crowd gives the movie an initial air of mystery, but everything is so over-the-top and ham-fisted that Serenity has no dramatic impact at all.

Matthew McConaughey may be an Oscar winner, having found redemption after years of floundering about in sub-par romantic comedies, but he still makes missteps in choosing his projects. As the tortured hero with a tragic past, McConaughey does a lot of yelling at the sky. There’s an extended skinny-dipping scene, which is perhaps the most worthwhile thing in the movie. The character is intended to be sympathetic but doesn’t come close to making audiences root for him.

Michael O’Sullivan of The Washington Post described Anne Hathaway’s performance as “kind of a live-action Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and we can’t come up with a better description than that. Everything is heightened and hard to believed, but Hathaway’s turn as a blonde femme fatale is the most heightened and hardest to believe part of Serenity.

Jason Clarke’s abusive husband character is just that, a one-dimensional villain. It looks like Clarke had fun playing him, but he has played despicable characters with more nuance to them and it’s just more interesting that way.

Diane Lane shows up as a woman whom Baker sleeps with for money. That’s about it as far as her character goes. Oh, Djimon Hounsou is in this movie too.

There’s a version of this movie which is a tongue-in-cheek stealth parody of erotic thriller conventions that might have worked, but this is just a failure on every level. There’s a novelty factor to two Oscar-winning movie stars headlining what promises to be a steamy thriller, but Serenity fizzles out in spectacular fashion. By the time the mind-boggling conclusion rolls around, the movie has done a slow-motion faceplant on the ground. It’s also a shame that Serenity tarnishes the good name of 2005’s Serenity, the movie continuation of Joss Whedon’s space western TV series Firefly.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

First Man review

FIRST MAN

Director : Damien Chazelle
Cast : Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Pablo Schreiber, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Brian D’Arcy James, Cory Michael Smith, Ciarán Hinds
Genre : Drama/Biography
Run Time : 143 mins
Opens : 18 October 2018
Rating : PG13

Call it ‘La La Moon Landing’: Damien Chazelle, the youngest winner of the Best Director Oscar, trains his sights on NASA’s quest to put the first man on the moon in this biopic.

It is 1961 and civillian test pilot Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is accepted into NASA Astronaut Group 2. Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler), NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office, emphasises how the Soviet Union has beaten the US to every major milestone in the Space Race. This batch of astronauts, which also includes Ed White (Jason Clarke), David Scott (Christopher Abbott), Elliott See (Patrick Fugit), Michael Collins (Lukas Haas) and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (Corey Stoll), among others, will take part in the Gemini Program. Gemini is NASA’s second human spaceflight program, and the tests conducted during the Gemini missions will lead to the Apollo Program, which aims to put a man on the moon.

The training is physically and mentally demanding, and the risk is high – several of the astronauts whom Neil becomes close to die in failed missions. This takes a toll on Neil’s wife Janet (Claire Foy), who fears that their children Rick (Gavin Warren and Luke Winters at different ages) and Mark (Paul Haney and Connor Blodgett at different ages) will be left without a father. NASA faces scrutiny and pressure in the aftermath of their high-profile failures, as many across the nation question the cost of the Space Race in dollars and in lives. This culminates in Neil, Buzz and Michael forming the crew of Apollo 11, with Neil becoming the first man to step foot on the lunar surface.

Following in the grand tradition of historical dramas about the Space Program like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, First Man is an awards contender that hopes to also thrill audiences. Chazelle works from a script by Spotlight and The Post co-writer Josh Singer, who adapted history professor James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. First Man combines a documentary-like feel marked by lots of grainy verité handheld shots with grand cinematic spectacle, and it’s a balance that mostly works.

There are bits of First Man that do feel a bit dry, but the film does a fine job of covering the history and an even better job of putting audiences inside the spacecraft alongside the astronauts. Before the Gemini 8 mission takes off, we get close-up shots of all the rivets and bolts inside the capsule as it creaks on the launchpad – if just one tiny thing fails, it all goes up in smoke. First Man contains some of the most realistic depictions of spaceflight ever put on screen, and endeavours to shed light on the people who made the achievements of the Space Program possible.

Chazelle reunites with several collaborators from La La Land, including cinematographer Linus Sandgren and composer Justin Hurwitz, who also scored Whiplash. The 16 mm and 35 mm film stock give the film an authentic period feel, while the moon landing sequence is presented in all its 70 mm IMAX glory. There is careful attention to detail in capturing the specifics of the ‘60s NASA setting, and production designer Nathan Crowley’s reproductions of the spacecraft and facilities is entirely convincing.

The backlash against the film for omitting the moment in which the American flag is planted on the moon seems like a mountain out of a lunar molehill. The decision to leave this well-known part of the moon landing out seems to stem from a desire to pare back the iconography of this historical moment and focus the story into something personal, giving the movie an honesty and a rawness.

Gosling anchors the film with a quiet, well-considered performance. The film characterises Neil Armstrong as someone who’s intelligent and earnest, but who is not especially well-equipped to process the grief that befalls him and those he cares about all too often. He is consumed by his work and driven to succeed, while it looks like everything around him is in danger of crumbling away. There’s an earnestness and intensity that Gosling dials to just the right level.

Foy’s Janet Armstrong is stern but caring, and her take on the role is a lot more than “worried wife back home”. Her relationship with Neil underscores how the astronauts are people with their own lives, and that serving the higher call of the Space Program comes at the expense of those lives.

The film’s supporting cast, including Clarke, Chandler and Ciarán Hinds, all give serious, unassuming ‘character actor’-type performances. Stoll’s Buzz Aldrin is characterised as someone who’s not exactly likeable, and this is something Stoll visibly enjoys playing.

First Man is a finely crafted serious awards season drama, but watching it still feels a little bit like homework. The attempts to juxtapose the US’ involvement in the Space Race against the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle are commendable but a little clumsy. In taking a matter-of-fact approach, the film loses some of the wonderment and awe associated with mankind “slipping the surly bonds of earth”. However, Chazelle and co. largely succeed in crafting a credible account of Neil Armstrong’s journey from the earth to the moon.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Winchester movie review

For inSing

WINCHESTER

Directors: The Spierig Brothers
Cast : Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Finn Scicluna-O’Prey, Angus Sampson, Laura Brent
Genre : Horror
Run Time : 1h 40mins
Opens : 8 Feb 2018
Rating : PG13

In San Jose, California, stands the Winchester Mystery House, reputedly one of the most haunted residences in the United States. This is the story of that house, and the woman who built it.

It is 1906, and Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is summoned by the Winchester Repeating Arms Co.’s lawyers to conduct an evaluation of Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). Sarah, the widow of Winchester founder William, has sunk all the money left to her by her husband into the construction of a sprawling, labyrinth mansion. She intends to imprison the restless souls of those killed with Winchester rifles within the house’s walls.

Also living in the house are Sarah’s niece Marian Marriott (Sarah Snook) and Marian’s young son Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey). Henry is prone to sleepwalking, but Sarah believes something more sinister might be at play. Eric writes off the spooky occurrences he witnesses as the result of withdrawal from the drugs he’s addicted to, but soon, the paranormal activity grows to intense to ignore. Sarah must find a way to grant the ghosts peace, or they will torment her and her family forever.

Oh, and JUMP SCARE!

The true story of Sarah Winchester and the Mystery House she constructed is fascinating and eerie, so it is a shame to see it reduced to a mostly dull, run of the mill horror movie. Every so often, there are glimmers of potential: production designer Matthew Putland has created a decent approximation of the house’s rooms, and all three principle actors are talented if under-utilised. Unfortunately, directors Peter and Michael Spierig are only content with scratching the surface, always going for the obvious and nothing more.

Winchester could’ve been a disturbing, compelling portrait of a women driven to the brink of insanity, wracked with guilt, and swallowed up by her demons. This has all the makings of a stylish Gothic horror film – imagine what a director like Guillermo del Toro could’ve done with this material. Alas, we merely get a succession of jump scares, and the mansion never becomes the central character we are promised it will be.

There’s also the opportunity to make a political statement, given the hot-button topic gun control always is in America. There are allusions to oppressed minorities, including African-American slaves and Native Americans, but Winchester never goes anywhere interesting with this. The central ghost winds up being rather boring, given that there are supposedly hundreds of other ghosts who lurk around the manor’s halls.

There’s a degree of novelty in the fact that a respected Oscar-winning actress like Helen Mirren deigned to star in a generic horror movie. Alas, that novelty fades fast. Mirren is good but unremarkable – this can mostly be chalked up to how the script refuses to give any real depth to Sarah’s personal turmoil, and how keen the movie is to explain things the audience should have already deduced. Mirren doesn’t fling herself off the deep end, never surrendering to the madness in a way that could be considered entertaining. At the same time, the movie does want to be sufficiently respectful of Sarah Winchester, by refraining from painting her as crazy. We can only imagine the meal Mirren would’ve made of this character, were she better written.

Clarke’s Eric is the standard sceptical man of science, who refuses to believe that supernatural forces are at work. Naturally, there’s a tragic back-story he must come to terms with. Clarke’s trying, but there’s not much to work with. Same goes for Snook, who starred in the Spierig Brothers’ far superior film Predestination. She spends most of the movie looking scared.

Winchester could’ve gone in two directions: a genuinely creepy psychological thriller that delves into the mind of a truly disturbed, complex woman; or an over-the-top Hammer Horror-style haunted house movie that’s campy, arch and blood-soaked. This film is neither and is instead middle-of-the-road and disappointingly bland. Even Mirren’s presence can’t elevate Winchester, which should have plenty to say about the effect of gun violence on those who are left behind to pick up the pieces but says almost nothing.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Everest

For F*** Magazine

EVEREST

Director : Baltasar Kormákur
Cast : Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Hawkes, Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, Sam Worthington, Emily Watson, Martin Henderson
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 122 mins
Opens : 24 September 2015
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)
There is a Chinese proverb that warns of the dangers of the oceans, which roughly translates to “bully the mountain but never bully the water”. It turns out that mountains aren’t to be trifled with either. It is 1996 and Rob Hall (Clarke), founder of expedition guide agency Adventure Consultants, is leading a group of climbers up Mount Everest. His clients for this season include Doug Hansen (Hawkes), a mailman who has made two failed attempts to ascend Everest; Beck Weathers (Brolin), a Texan doctor; Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a Japanese woman who has climbed six of the world’s seven tallest peaks and is hoping to complete that list by reaching the top of Everest; and journalist Jon Krakauer (Kelly). Rob’s wife Jan (Knightley) is pregnant with their first child and is awaiting his safe return. It is a crowded climbing season at Everest base camp, with expeditions from various countries and Scott Fischer (Gyllenhaal), founder of the rival expedition agency Mountain Madness, also with their eyes on the prize. When disaster strikes at the roof of the world, every last ounce of determination and endurance will be required to stay alive in the most inhospitable of conditions. 
The 1996 Mount Everest disaster is a well-documented tragedy, covered by multiple books, documentaries and a TV movie. Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air is probably the best-known account, though some have called the veracity of his version of events into question. The poster claims Everest is “the most dangerous place on earth”, though mountains like Annapurna, K2 and the Eiger have claimed a larger ratio of lives. Still, that’s not to diminish the obvious risk inherent in climbing Everest. Director Baltasar Kormákur is clearly striving for a depiction that is as accurate, objective and respectful as possible, lending the movie the vibe of a National Geographic docu-drama re-enactment, but with a much larger budget and better actors. Movies allow audiences a glimpse into worlds they would never step into otherwise, and Everest achieves a sufficient degree of authenticity, thanks to location shooting in Italy’s Ötztal Alps, Iceland and Nepal itself. This is a film that was made for the IMAX 3D format and while there is an actual IMAX 3D Everest documentary, this film offers a more immersive and thrilling experience because of its narrative. 
The movie makes it crystal clear that ascending Mount Everest is a behemoth undertaking, involving training and acclimatisation, complex logistics, the harshest of elements and coming at a high monetary cost as well. The screenplay, credited to Simon Beaufoy and William Nicholson, tidily explains the rules and technicalities in layman’s terms while not dropping exposition into the audience’s lap wholesale. The film, via Michael Kelly’s portrayal of Krakauer, directly addresses the question most viewers would have on their minds – “why climb Everest at all?” The famous words of pioneering mountaineer George Mallory, “because it’s there”, are invoked, but the answer – if there is a singular one – seems far more ineffable and we are able to see just how much conquering the famous peak means to the various people in the story. 
Everest boasts an impressive cast by any standards, so there is the danger of it becoming “famous people on a mountain” and losing the verisimilitude of the true story. Thankfully, this is largely averted. Jason Clarke is excellent, portraying Rob Hall as diligent and attentive, while also aiming to turn a profit/make a living. Josh Brolin’s rugged charm is on full display, but it is John Hawkes who turns out to be the emotional core of the film. Hawkes’ portrayal of Doug, whose passion for mountaineering has rendered him near-penniless and has driven a wedge in his relationship with his wife and family, is quietly, painfully sympathetic. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Scott Fischer is the laid-back, free-spirited counterpoint to the by-the-book Rob, and the film benefits from never sensationalising the rivalry to cartoony proportions. 
We do wish Naoko Mori’s Yasuko Namba got more screen time – this is a woman who has successfully conquered six of the seven tallest mountains in the world by the age of 47, and is clearly a fascinating person. However, we concede that giving everyone their moment to shine in an ensemble picture is tricky, let alone when set against the staggering backdrop of a mountaineering disaster. The film also falls back on the “anxious wife back home” cliché, with Keira Knightley and Robin Wright as Rob’s wife Jan and Beck’s wife Peach respectively. The fact that Jan was pregnant at the time might come off as emotionally manipulative – but then again, that is what actually took place and while it’s a formula we’ve seen many times before, we can’t think of a viable alternative to portray what the climbers’ families were going through. 
While there is not a huge amount of room to establish the climbers as fully-developed characters, they are several notches up from being faceless victims and it easy to get invested in their plight. There are certain points where it might be difficult to tell the characters apart, since they are all clad in heavy-duty winter gear, are wearing goggles and mostly bearded. 
Many films are pitched as “celebrating the triumph of the human spirit”. There is an element of that in Everest, to be sure, but it is tempered with the idea of Mother Nature as a harsh mistress. As the line in the film goes, “the last word always belongs to the mountain.” There’s no sugar-coating, no manufactured “Hollywood ending”, with the conclusion bittersweet in that it’s 80% bitter and 20% sweet. Everest gets off to a slow start and because the tragedy it’s based on was so well-publicised, many viewers will know how it ends, but this is a journey that is largely worth the while. 
Summary: A respectful, credible account of the 1996 Everest disaster that overcomes the bits of survival drama formula it must include with some terrific performances and harrowing spectacle. 
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Terminator Genisys

For F*** Magazine

TERMINATOR GENISYS

Director : Alan Taylor
Cast : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J. K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matthew Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-Hun 
Genre : Sci-Fi/Action
Run Time : 126 mins
Opens : 25 June 2015
Rating : PG13 (Violence & Brief Coarse Language)

“There is no fate but what we make” – the filmmakers behind the fifth entry in the Terminator film series hope to rewrite its fate, after the third and fourth films left most critics and moviegoers cold. Sci-fi fans know the drill – artificially intelligent network Skynet has taken over the world, killing most of earth’s population in the apocalyptic “Judgement Day”. In the future, John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the resistance against the machines. In this reboot, John sends his trusted lieutenant Kyle Reese (Courtney) back in time from 2029 to 1984 to save John’s mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke) from the T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger/Brett Azar/Aaron V. Williamson). Kyle arrives in the past to discover he has entered an alternate timeline where Sarah Connor already knows her destiny and has been watched over by an aging T-800 she has nicknamed “Pops” (also Schwarzenegger). Forced to team up with Sarah and Pops, Kyle has to figure out what this means for the future as Skynet takes on a new form; the universal connectivity app “Genisys”.


            2015 has already seen the release of new Mad Max and Jurassic Park films, with the seventh Star Wars movie due in December. We won’t be griping about the prevalence of sequels and reboots, because those can be good – it seems the problem isn’t so much that Hollywood has run out of ideas but that studio executives are banking too much on brand recognition and the built-in audience a pre-existing intellectual property brings with it. Terminator Genisys is caught in a paradox: one won’t be able to fully grasp its place in the larger Terminator mythos without having seen the earlier films, but if one holds the first two movies very dear, it’s likely to be a considerable disappointment. The “alternate timeline” route, not unlike with the 2009 Star Trek reboot, seems like a reasonable premise for a series built on time travel. However, the directions that Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier’s screenplay takes this in often feel like desperate attempts to stretch out a series that should have ended with 1991’s T2 (or at least the theme park attraction T2: 3D Battle Across Time). Judgement Day is postponed – again – and our protagonists have to stop this new Judgement Day from happening – again.


            The film is comparable to a greatest hits album as sung by a cover band – it’s trying its darndest to add something to the existing material but often feels perfunctory in having to hit those certain iconic waypoints along the way. Genisys actually does a fine job of setting up its fairly convoluted back-story in its opening minutes – we’re told in relatively concise fashion what Skynet is, what happened on Judgement Day, who John Connor is, why Kyle Reese needs to be sent back in time and what the scope of the threat is. Even then, more than a passing familiarity with T1 and 2 is needed for all of it to make proper sense. There’s also the matter of the spectacle – sure, there are plenty of action set pieces and there is some cool new imagery, particularly during a scene involving a MRI scanner, but none of it is truly awe-inspiring or unique. The first two Terminator films, T2 in particular, broke a lot of ground in the realm of special and visual effects and packed in jaw-dropping moments that still hold up today. There is a marked over-reliance on computer-generated imagery and yes, while this is a series about robots, it all feels too synthetic. There’s a helicopter chase that looks entirely like it belongs in a video game and the T-1000’s (Lee) liquid metal effects are on about the same level as those in T2 24 years ago.

            Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the iconic role of the T-800 does lend some legitimacy to the enterprise but we’re sure some fans will find it difficult to accept that the lethal killing machine is now relegated to a softer father figure and often functions as the comic relief. Schwarzenegger still possesses the chops to pull off the action beats and is still a believable badass. However, we don’t get anything half as heart-rending as the bond between the T-800 and a young John Connor in T2, even when the Terminator is supposed to have practically raised Sarah since she was a little girl. At times, this reviewer felt like he was watching a lavishly-produced fan film that had managed to snag an actor from the original show, akin to how Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei sometimes make appearances in Star Trek fan productions.

            What makes it all the more difficult for this to be accepted as a proper Terminator continuation is that while Arnie is a recognisable holdover from the earlier films, all the other re-imagined characters look and feel so different than how we know them. Emilia Clarke goes from being the Mother of Dragons to the mother of humanity’s last hope. She is miscast as Sarah Connor, largely unconvincing as a badass woman who has spent most of her life under the tutelage of a purpose-built killing machine. When compared to how intense Linda Hamilton was in the role, Emilia Clarke seems like she’s merely playing dress-up, whiny rather than burdened with the fate of the human race.

            Jai Courtney looks and acts nothing like Michael Biehn, making him another puzzling casting choice. Where Biehn’s Kyle Reese was a sensitive, scarred but romantic figure, Courtney is more brutish. When Kyle and Sarah get into arguments, as they often do throughout the film, it feels awfully petty instead of carrying the weight of life and death. While undoubtedly a central figure to the mythos, John Connor has never really been the most interesting character of the series. Jason Clarke is fine in the role and the major plot twist in the film (which was spoiled in the trailers and the poster) does add an interesting layer to the character, but purists will probably find it sacrilegious. Lee Byung-hun does little more than run fast and look menacing as the shape-shifting T-1000 and J. K. Simmons is entirely wasted in a throwaway bit part as the lone police officer who believes Sarah and Kyle’s far-fetched story. Doctor Who’s Matt Smith also pops up in a small but crucial role.

            As a standalone sci-fi action film, Terminator: Genisys has its entertaining moments and isn’t as confusing in presenting its alternate timeline plot as it could’ve been. However, it’s impossible to pretend that this film doesn’t come with more than its share of baggage and doesn’t have a towering legacy to live up to. In riffing on what James Cameron had created with the first two Terminator films, Terminator Genisys director Alan Taylor has delivered a pale imitation of a sci-fi icon, an also-rans at best. Stick around for a mid-credits sequel-bait scene.


Summary:There is effort put into Terminator Genisys, but this attempt at continuing the franchise can’t help but feel it exists just for the sake of existing and is likely to alienate long-time fans of the series.
RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

For F*** Magazine

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Director : Matt Reeves
Cast : Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary
Genre : Sci-Fi, Action
Opens : 10 July 2014
Rating : TBA 
Running time: 132 mins
Three years on from the release of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this reviewer is still impressed with how effective, intelligent, innovative and just plain good that reboot was. In this sequel, set ten years after the events of Rise, earth’s human population has dwindled at an alarming rate in the wake of a devastating “Simian flu” pandemic. Caesar the chimpanzee (Serkis) leads a flourishing shrewdness of apes, including his son Blue Eyes (Thurston) and his aggressive advisor Koba (Kebbell). The human remnant sequestered in what remains of San Francisco is headed by military man Dreyfus (Oldman). Malcolm (Clarke), one of the survivors in Dreyfus’ camp, forges a fragile alliance with Caesar in order to gain access to a hydroelectric dam to generate power for the human settlement. Caesar grows to accept Malcolm, his wife Ellie (Russell) and their son Alexander (Smit-McPhee). However, having been severely mistreated by humans while in captivity, Koba strongly disapproves of this arrangement and incites an explosive conflict between the apes and the humans.

            Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sees Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame taking over the director’s chair from Rupert Wyatt, working from a screenplay by Rise scribes Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, with Mark Bomback. This is everything a good sequel should be, furthering the plot in a logical and intriguing direction without slavishly re-treading the story beats of its predecessor and without trying to be superficially “bigger and better” in terms of bombastic spectacle. Equal storytelling attention is given to the apes and the humans and the audience is fully able to buy into this world and accept each player in this story, be they human or computer-generated ape, as legitimate, well-formed characters. There’s a whole lot of meaningful character development going on and admirably enough, much of the conflict is derived from the characters’ individual nature instead of contrived circumstances. Despite the ten year time skip, there is still very strong connective tissue linking Dawnto Rise, building on the emotions generated from Caesar’s early years as depicted in the previous film.  

            Of course, credit has to be given to visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri of Weta Digital. The many artists and technicians involved give vivid life to the performance capture work of actors like Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell, applying their expressions and physicality to intricately-crafted CGI apes. The interaction between the apes amongst themselves, the apes and the environment and the apes and the live-action human actors is seamless. As impressive as the animation in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, it is stepped up here, to the point that the film’s opening shot is a tight close-up of Caesar’s eyes – those eyes lifelike and actually acting. Serkis, Kebbell, Thurston and the other actors portraying the key apes all deserve praise for essaying these figures with such nuanced physicality, but the visual effects wizards carrying that baton to the finish line should be duly recognised as well. In Dawn, great acting and great effects go hand-in-paw to create not just creatures, but honest-to-goodness characters.

            The human cast is our way in, and Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all convincing as the members of the family central to the story. The terseness between Malcolm and Caesar that eventually gives way to mutual respect and understanding but is always threatened by both apes and humans is played exceedingly well by both Clarke and Serkis. Gary Oldman’s role is not as big as the promotional material would have you believe, but he brings a heart-wrenching humanity to Dreyfus in addition to his signature explosive scenery-chewing (delivered in just the right amounts).

            1968’s Planet of the Apes was a landmark achievement for being an entertaining film that also pushed the boundaries of filmmaking technique (particularly in terms of special effects makeup) and was very thought-provoking. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is commendably similar in all those regards. There’s always been a silliness inherent in the premise, but following Rise, Dawn continues to effectively mitigate that. The film is unflinchingly brutal, even disturbing when it has to be but also articulates genuine emotion. It can be construed as anti-gun, interesting considering that the star of the original Planet of the Apes, the late Charlton Heston, was the president of the National Rifle Association. However, that is not where the focus lies – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, like Risebefore it, is a true character piece. Many summer blockbusters are touted as “character pieces” and that fools no one, but here is a film that intelligently and compellingly comments on prejudice and war while delivering the action flick goods and visual effects spectacle. A fine antidote to Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Summary: A new day is dawning, as the revitalised Planet of the Apes franchise marches onwards in just the right direction.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong