REVIEW: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: MATT REEVES / SCREENPLAY: RICK JAFFA, AMANDA SILVER, MARK BOMBACK / STARRING: ANDY SERKIS, JASON CLARKE, GARY OLDMAN, TOBY KEBBELL, KERI RUSSELL, NICK THURSTON, KIRK ACEVEDO / RELEASE DATE: JULY 17TH
J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, Roberto Orci, Michael Bay... take note, this is how you craft an new entry in a long-running franchise while adding something new and interesting to the mix. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a master class in how to make an engaging prequel/sequel.
Following on from 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn picks up "ten winters" later with Caesar (Serkis) and his troupe of super-intelligent apes living happily in San Francisco's Mount Tam State Park. Having not seen any humans for the past "two winters", the ape's idyllic lifestyle is rudely interrupted by a group of humans searching in the woods for something that their struggling community desperately needs; humans who know absolutely nothing of these upright walking, talking apes or their origins, setting the scene for a confrontation between man and ape that we all know the eventual outcome of.
That the path of the series is set in stone doesn't seem to have bothered the filmmakers, who build a powerful tale of Caesar and Malcolm (Clarke), one of the founders of the human community along with Gary Oldman's Dreyfus, attempting to build trust and friendship between the two species, and deal with the multiple obstacles in their way. What could have easily become an annoying cavalcade of obvious mix-ups between species becomes something so much more interesting as predictable sources of conflict are highlighted (the human with an irrational fear of the apes, accidental misunderstandings) and then managed competently by the characters or dismissed in favour of much more complex and interesting dynamics between the characters, both human and ape, although the apes are most definitely to the fore in this film.
Caesar and his close comrades are the core of the film, and are absolutely astounding to the point that they will inevitably be passed over in acting and special effects awards simply because they look so real. Only when the behind the scenes videos of Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, and Nick Thurston in their motion capture rigs surface will it be shown how much of the film rests on their acting ability combined with the high tech special effects. The apes' faces are so expressive it's hard not to over-empathise with them and even though they primarily communicate with each other through sign language, only using their voices to emphasise a point or talk to the humans, the sequences with them "talking" amongst themselves are never dull.
Matt Reeves' direction is solid without being overly showy, the desolation of this future world underscored by occasional images of great beauty, such as a San Francisco partly reclaimed by nature, or the apes' forest home. Reeves cleverly uses familiar sounds cues such as an iPad's charging beep or a classic rock song to underscore just how desolate this future has become for humanity.
Despite the best efforts of Caesar and his friends, conflict and strife become inevitable and the action scenes are staged thrillingly, with a siege and battle atop a tower standing out, although there are still plenty of surprises in store. The true horror of war becomes all too real to many of the apes and humans, albeit far too late. A satisfying, if somewhat disheartening climax, seems to set the scene for an even more direct sequel, and based upon the storytelling skill on display here it's a sequel that will be very highly anticipated.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10
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