Film Review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (spoiler free)

A sequel worth going Ape for?

Starring:  Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell

Directed by:  Matt Reeves / Written by:  Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver / 130 minutes

What’s it about?

A decade after leading his ape brethren to salvation and the decimation of the human population by the onset of the Simian Flu virus, Caesar finds that the ape society’s peaceful existence is soon threatened when human survivors are discovered…

In review

Summer 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Rupert Wyatt) proved a successful revitalisation and reinvention of a classic science fiction film franchise.  A surprise critical and commercial hit for studio 20th Century Fox it was a case of “if at first you don’t succeed…”, granted it took over a decade for a second attempt (following the poorly received Planet of the Apes ‘reimagining’ from director Tim Burton) but well worth the wait.

The new Apes franchise was already off to a good start and the saga’s second chapter, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes managed to live up to the hype and the wave of positive opinion that emerged from the film’s theatrical release earlier this year – where it grossed over $700m at the box office.  It’s a sequel that builds upon the creative and narrative foundations of the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes, bettering it on every level as every sequel should, yet rarely achieves.

Moving events a decade on from the closing frames of Rise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes allows us to see an evolving and growing ape society living a peaceful (at times fractious) existence under the leadership of the elder, more seasoned Caesar with loyal allies Koba, Maurice and Rocket still at his side.  Believing that all of humanity has succumbed to the Simian Flu, the ape society’s security is threatened when, by chance, human survivors are discovered.  With a human colony desperate to utilise a nearby dam to provide them with power, a reluctant and uneasy alliance is formed and deceits eventually bring both groups to the brink of war.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is obviously a visual marvel – much as Rise was upon release – made possible by the continuing refinement of digital effects and motion capture technology.  It’s all handled capably by director Matt Reeves who is no stranger to large scale environments and the demands of a multi-million dollar effects-laden project, having cut his teeth on the J.J. Abrams-produced Cloverfield.

Yet there’s much more to Dawn beyond its visual aesthetics and technical accomplishments.  This is a film with dramatic and narrative weight with some great and well defined characters – both ape and human.  Andy Serkis once again proves that motion capture performances are just that – beneath the digital exterior lies expressions of thought and emotion that truly make the ape characters believable and Serkis is arguably at the forefront of it all.  Gary Oldman gives another reliable turn as Dreyfus, the emotionally tortured leader of the human survivors, but Caesar’s true counterpart lies in Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, a man who he finds holds similar values of family and society.  One of Dawn’s biggest draws however is the rebellious and volatile Koba, brought breathlessly to life by Toby Kebbell with a performance that is truly electrifying (and at times terrifying) and adds further weight to that believability of these characters.  Along with Sirkis, he is an incredible talent and a joy to behold.

That’s what is most enjoyable about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, amongst some of the more comfortable ‘by the numbers’ popcorn blockbusters that were also released this summer, it is a film with not only spectacle, exciting set-pieces and jaw-dropping effects but a laudable measure of heart and soul as it explores themes of family and survival and brains as it conveys a narrative that is beyond a mere case of ‘good’ apes versus ‘bad’ humans.  Just like the original Apes franchise explored these themes of society and the human condition, so does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The bottom line:  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a strong contender for film of the year, beyond its incredible technical achievements it has a resonance and depth that many other summer blockbusters fail to accomplish.  Not to be missed.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download now.

The incredible Andy Serkis brings the Ape leader, Caesar to life in 20th Century Fox's spectacular 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'.

The incredible Andy Serkis brings the Ape leader, Caesar to life in 20th Century Fox’s spectacular ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’.

What are your thoughts on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?  Leave your comments below!

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4 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (spoiler free)

  1. Amazingly in depth review that kept me reading! I wasnt a fan of Planet of the Apes; but you’ve made a strong case for this film, so I must go watch it 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words mate! You should definitely check this out, just make sure you watch ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ first! If you like these I’d also recommend the originals (or at least the first one)!

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