Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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We’ve had the Rise, now it’s time for the Dawn. Director Matt Reeves brings us Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the first sequel in what currently is set to be a Trilogy.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Rupert Wyatt) gave us an interesting new take on the ape universe, acting as the first in a series of prequels to the original films. The idea of revamping the series after that rather disappointing reboot of 2001 starring Mark Wahlberg, definitely gave cause for concern from many. However the new direction that Rise proposed provided a genuine surprise and injected new life into the series, resulting in a deeper, more personal story, and a rather solid film.

Dawn continues the story set up by its predecessor, but it’s safe to say this is a grander, and more elevated installment.  We rejoin Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his clan of apes a decade later in a world in which the human race has been severely depleted by a simian virus, and is struggling to survive in the remnants of the former world.

Caesar and his clan have easily adapted to the new world, living in relative peace. Across the pond, an inner-city settlement of human survivors founded and led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are trying to recreate some form of civilization, surviving on the very last of their quickly diminishing energy supplies. It is this depletion that forces Malcolm to take a small party on an expedition into Ape territory to access the potential of a local dam they believe holds the key to their problems. I think you can guess what happens.

This isn’t a film about Good vs. Evil; that would be too simple and a little offensive. No, this is a film about two seemingly different groups that don’t fully understand one another, trying to survive. It’s a story about trust and miscommunication.

Wyatt has done a magnificent job of structuring this film by consciously juxtaposing the two groups to highlight just how indifferent they actually are.

Through this juxtaposition the audience are allowed to care for both parties, and this builds a lot of tension when things aren’t going quite to plan.

Malcolm and Caesar are evidence of this, two leaders clearly determined to protect and provide for their own, however trust issues exist and both must prove to one another that their instinct to avoid violent outcomes is the right one.

Full credit has to be given to Andy Serkis for a magnificent performance as Caesar. He may not get the recognition he suitably deserves due to the heavy reliance on CGI and motion capture, however it is common knowledge that Serkis has vast experience in motion capture, and with Caesar he successfully commands and dominates each of his scenes.

Of course we also have to pay homage to the visual effects, as with Rise, the visuals on show are astounding and extremely powerful to watch, creating a real immersive experience. This is a truly believable world, a deteriorating reflection of our own, and quite reminiscent of Naughty Dog’s 2013 PS3 release The Last of Us. It might even have you accepting that Monkeys can man guns on horseback.

This is your big summer blockbuster, but regardless of all the computer-generated beauty on show, Dawn proves it has more to offer than just visual spectacle. Having said that, Caesar is a living, breathing, work of genius, and carries a genuine presence that at times may even intimidate viewers. This may be the Dawn of the Apes, but it’s very much Caesar’s story, and a story he commands until the end.

 

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is out in UK cinemas July 17th

 

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