Film review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Joseph Austin reviews the return of the Planet of the Apes series.

Andy Serkis’ Caesar is king as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rules this summer’s box office in this intelligent, yet stunningly action-packed, sequel.

With an already confirmed third instalment to this Planet of the Apes origin, things are looking good for 20th Century Fox and director Matt Reeves, as this emotionally charged chapter in the Apes canon delivers everything from more marvellous motion capture to crazed gun-wielding chimpanzees on horseback.

Set 10 years after their rebellion in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar’s growing group of super-smart primates have settled in the Red Woods, San Francisco.

Unlike the thriving apes, however, most of the world’s humans have been wiped out by the deadly simian flu teased at the end of Rise and elaborated on during the opening of Dawn. From the start this sequel to the prequel of the reboot (confused?) is strikingly different in tone.

Where there was joy in Caesar’s triumphant and heroic rise in the first movie, despair looms large this time round and everything seems rather bleak.

Well, for the humans anyway.

Genetically immune human survivors, living in the abandoned and overgrown streets of San Francisco, have almost run out of power and dare to cross Caesar’s territory in order to fix the dam generator.

There’s no monkey business here, as Reeves immediately sharpens his focus to two significant power struggles.

The first tussle is expected.

The delicate relationship between human and ape threatens to implode more than once throughout Dawn, before breaking into all-out war, allowing the franchises’ CGI and stunt work to come to the fore.

Yet it’s the struggle between two apes that dominates proceedings.

Toby Kebbell’s brilliant work as the ferocious and disturbingly violent Koba is hard to ignore, as he tangles with the might of a learned Caesar, putting the latter’s motto of “ape shall not kill ape” to the test.

Serkis’ alpha ape is once again sensational, as we marvel at the brilliance of motion capture as well as his undeniable acting prowess.

As emotionally hinged as the first movie was, Dawn takes things up a notch, leaving us hanging on every expression and word spoken (yes, spoken!) by the apes.

The human characters certainly take a back seat, with the most prominent of performances coming from Jason Clarke’s well-meaning Malcolm. Gary Oldman’s confused role as the human leader Dreyfus is neither here nor there and, rather disappointingly, is relegated to very little screen time at all.

In this cluttered and clogged era of modern filmmaking sequels can often be wide of the mark, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is absolutely spot on.

Expanding on the success of its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ exciting mix of intelligent storytelling, stunning special effects and relentless action bodes well for whatever the apes have in store for us next.