From director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) comes the much-anticipated sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a re-boot of the classic film saga depicting a world in which intelligent simians have become the dominant species of the planet. Set ten years after the events of Rise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sees a world in which human civilisation has been reduced to ruins by the breakout of simian flu, while the apes themselves have made their home amongst the forests with Caesar as their leader. When a group of humans searching for a power source inadvertently stumble upon the apes’ city, the struggle for control over the planet begins.
Perhaps the greatest strength Dawn has to offer are its characters, and the film-makers have daringly decided to have the apes form the central roles, and have the humans as the sideshow. Unlike Rise and films such as Avatar where the creatures are the focus but always depicted through human eyes, this film takes the complete opposite route: all the key events are from the apes’ viewpoint; the emotional highlights take place within their struggle, and fuel the inevitable carnage. All the philosophical and moral questions normally discussed by humans are delivered by Caesar and his companions, more tears are shed by the simians, with their pain and anguish expressed through sign language and developing speech.
The motion-capture work used to transform actors such as Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell into Caesar and antagonist Koba respectively is a work of art in itself. Never for one moment do you doubt that the apes are anything but real, their interactions with the human characters not only visually tangible but visceral on an emotional level too. Not to be overshadowed by the effects, Serkis provides a terrific performance as the ape leader struggling to keep the peace he knows is doomed to fail, and Kebbell is a sight to behold as the scheming opposite, grinding the dialogue ferociously between his teeth.
In terms of human performances, Gary Oldman – though given little screen time – delivers the most emotionally powerful presence in the entire film as military commander Dreyfuss, moving seamlessly from unshakeably determined to broken and hopeless in a world spiralling out of his control. Jason Clarke is also reliable as Malcom, leader of the group sent to find a new power source, but Keri Russell as his wife Ellie gives a stronger yet subtle performance.
Whilst the philosophical and political nature of the past Apes films are still recurrent, the musical score also appears to have taken a step back into the 1960’s: a string of drum-based and choral pieces appearing alongside the more modern-sounding motifs. Composer Michael Giacchino has taken his experience in reviving the music of 60’s staples such as Star Trek and applied it expertly here, drawing on the originals and his contemporaries for inspiration. The film is shot magnificently, presented in a full-frame aspect ratio that causes the action to burst from the screen more than 3D ever could, displaying the inventive cinematography and stark colour palette beautifully.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent, thought-provoking and incredibly powerful science-fiction film that lives up to the series’ legacy and which has the audacity to allow non-human characters to take centre stage, treating the audience as intelligent and trusting them to invest in the apes as much as – if not more than – the humans. Featuring terrific performances, special effects that will take decades to age and an attitude that is cinematic in its purest form, it will stand the test of time as a remarkable achievement in blockbuster film-making.