Many were understandably apprehensive when a Planet of the Apes reboot was announced. The 1968 science fiction film, based on Pierre Boulle’s 1963 French novel La Planète des singes, spawned a franchise that went on to two television series, comic books, novels and six films. It certainly didn’t help that the sixth film was Tim Burton’s ill-received 2001 remake. All doubt and fears of further poor retreads were well and truly put to rest when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released. The film was brilliant, an emotional blockbuster with brains, and was rightly embraced by audiences and critics. The sequel, with a new director and a new human cast, is now here. The simple question you no doubt want answered: is it any good? The simple answer: it’s better than good. Ladies and gentleman, this is one of the best films of the year.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues ten years after the events of the previous film. The simian flu has now wiped out much of the Earth’s population, leaving behind pockets of survivors in a rundown world. We’re introduced to Caesar (Andy Serkis) straight away. The now fully mature ape leads a large shrewdness of apes in the Muir Woods. He has a mate, a young son and a newborn baby boy. A prosperous community has formed, a peaceful way of life that comes to a halt when a group of humans enter the forest. Led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, who also has a son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and partner (Keri Russell), this group wishes to access a hydroelectric generator located at a dam in Caesar’s territory. The generator is needed to supply electricity to a small community of humans, led by Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, living in San Francisco. After initially denying them access, Caesar changes his mind, setting off a chain reaction that will soon spell disaster.
There are a lot of moving parts in this narrative, impressively constructed to ensure that you are enthralled every step of the way. As with the previous film, Dawn is driven by a deeply emotional storyline. The story is the emphasis in this picture; the technical wizardry on display is the icing on the layered cake. The world here is potently and realistically brought to life, it’s all lived in, and we have no problem jumping into the proceedings.
From the get-go, these motion-captured apes are absolutely convincing. You’ll catch yourself forgetting that these creations aren’t real, as their interactions and conflicting sentiments drive every beat in this tragic opus. Hands down, Caesar is one of the finest creations cinema has ever seen. CG wizardry aside, Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) continues to prove that there is no better performer in the world of motion capture. Putting in an almost Oscar-worthy performance, Serkis ensures that Caesar is a multifaceted being, as heartbreakingly sweet and hopeful as he is valiant and resilient. Caesar’s personality has certainly changed since Rise, he is proud and more than ready to show his fearsome dominance now, but his heart remains as compassionate as ever. Family is his reasoning here, to protect his kind and his home, making his inevitable collision course that much more tragic and exhausting to witness.
The entire cast is at top form. The apes, including an outstandingly brute Toby Kebbell as Caesar’s troubled lieutenant, Koba, are played to perfection by an admirable cast of motion-captured actors. These type of performances need to be more widely appreciated, pure and simple. The human side is also impressive, though the screenplay doesn’t seem to give them as much to do. Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell, Kodi Smit-Mcphee and Gary Oldman are fantastic, playing well-written Homo sapiens with well-established motivations.
Motivation, for that matter, is incorporated into almost every character, both ape and human, so that every decision can carry understandable weight. The screenplay, written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback, is bursting with discussions on family, diplomacy, and what it is to be human, to name a few themes, but it never forgets that this is ultimately a piece of entertainment. Basically, Dawn is a thinking man’s blockbuster.
There are a few minor issues to be mentioned before cementing just how good this film is. Certain moments of dialogue are ultimately much too simple and underwritten to match the film’s high standards, and there’s more than one occasion of “coincidence” that hurts the film’s otherwise flawless believability. These are deserving of a mention, however nitpick-ish, because of just how perfect everything else is.
Apart from the great performances and layered screenplay, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) outdoes himself by matching his tensely crafted moments of character interaction with truly outstanding action sequences. When the inevitable clashes begin, the behind-the-scenes crew really shines. Providing a jaw-dropping interplay of live-action and CG imagery, these battle sequences are phenomenal. Relentless, gritty and suspenseful, the film deserves further kudos for not going over-the-top with the spectacle, as occurs way too often with tentpole pictures. Never having a moment of action without good reason, Dawn pushes the drama through to the very last conflict.
To withhold writing a novel, I’ll begin wrapping up. The film is exhausting, no doubt about it, but it’s oh-so satisfying. From the masterful cinematography by Michael Seresin (Midnight Express, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), to the shattering score by Michael Giacchino (Up, Star Trek Into Darkness), to the wonderfully thought out production design by James Chinlund (Requiem for a Dream, The Avengers), this is all class. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a hard-hitting blockbuster that will affect you emotionally while ramping up that pulse. Not only is this a great sequel, it stands on its own as a great piece of cinema.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10