Director: Matt Reeves
Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
Now when the Planet of the Apes franchise was relaunched again with 2011’s Rise, I was trepidations, to say the least. That film absolutely blew me away. Not only was it better than the rehashed dross I was expecting, it was actually a really, really great film. And now it has a sequel, with Matt Reeves taking directing duties for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Could it really live up to the brilliant groundwork done by 2011’s Rise or would it be the case that Rise was simply a one-off?
Dawn picks up roughly 10 years since the end of Rise, with the ‘simian flu’ having run ragged across the globe. With apes now clearly the dominant species, there are next to none human survivors… until we get introduced to a small band of survivors. Two of the standouts of the group are Malcolm (Clarke) and Dreyfuss (Oldman), but both have opposing views. Elsewhere, the apes, led by the returning Caesar (Serkis), have set up a home and society for themselves deep in the woods, complete with hierarchy, education and family. Humans are thought extinct, so the re-emergence of the species causes debate amongst the apes. Caesar, standing strong as the leader of the simians, has to be shown to do the right thing for his people but is also sympathetic to the human’s case (they need access to a damn in the apes’ woods that could provide them with power). Within the apes are several numbers who think the humans should be killed. Similarly, whilst Malcolm wants peace with the apes and to co-exist with them, Dreyfuss wants the apes wiped out, killed, so that humanity can rebuild its future. As the two species seem on a path for war, Caesar and Malcolm do their best to keep things amicable, although their efforts are not always appreciated by those around them.
Firstly, just to quell any fears, yes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes perfectly picks up the baton handed over by Rise and progresses the story brilliantly. There are plenty of references and nods to the first film in this relaunched franchise, although they are never rammed down your throat. The performances on show are great for what is needed, and Clarke particularly stands out from the human characters. What is most impressive about Dawn are those damn, dirty apes. Mainly using sign language to communicate, the SFX work on show is sublime. The intimate, minor details and mannerisms of the apes, gorillas, orang-utans et al is simply breathtaking to watch. Serkis’ Caesar is a character of a million emotions, and you really feel yourself anguishing for this CGI, motion-captured creature.
As ever with the Apes movies, there’s a lot of social commentary on show, again not necessarily shoved down your throats. There’s agendas and politics on show, even within the ape community, and there’s a heart and warmth that shines bright throughout the movie. Even at it’s darkest moments, there’s a reasoning behind those moments, well except for some of the more erratic, villainous moments from certain characters. For risk of spoilers, I’ll leave the subject there. This is a movie that has you gripped from its opening gambit, giving viewers action, emotion, grief, and hope. Given the emphasis of movement and actions, it really does hit home how over-important verbiage is. My only slight gripe with the film is that Gary Oldman, whilst great in what he does in the film, feels a little underutilised. Given how wonderful the final product turns out, though, I can live with Oldman in a relatively reduced film. This is very much a movie about apes, with man playing second fiddle.
A triumph for all involved, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes the ball from the excellent Rise, avoids any and all banana skins, and delivers a movie that whets the appetite for plenty more monkey business.