This sequel that is set a decade after the events of the first film (Rise of the Planet of the Apes – itself a reboot/prequel to the franchise), shares much of its predecessor’s simian DNA, yet also strives to do something completely different with its story.
Gone is the science fiction staple (should we or shouldn't we tamper with nature) that occupied much of Rise. In fact, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes plays out more like a Western – a tense stand-off between two groups: the super intelligent ape colony and what’s left of the humans in San Francisco (the opening sequence succinctly revealing that the majority of the human race has been wiped out by an lethal virus after the close of the first film – including all the human characters that appeared therein).
Instead, the always dependable Jason Clarke takes the lead (human) role this time around, as a man on a mission to fix a dam that could provide a much needed source of power for the survivor’s stronghold - the catch being, said dam just so happens to be situated right near the Ewok Village-like settlement inhabited by the apes. And prior experience has given them a deep distrust of humans.
Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) masterfully cranks up the tension throughout, with many an intense standoff that gradually escalates to the inevitable outbreak of mass violence, despite some occasional moments of furtive cooperation between the groups. So whilst you do get a slow burn drama for much of the first two thirds, you are eventually treated to sequences involving a horse-riding ape dual-wielding machine guns and hijacking a tank.
From a technical standpoint, what they have achieved with Dawn is incredible. Andy Serkis (most famous for his performance as Gollum) reprises his role as ape leader Caesar, a performance so good it arguably knocks poor Smeagol right out of the ballpark. Of course credit goes to the mo-cap and special effects team, but it is also each ape actor’s performance - the nuances in movement help different characters stand out from each other and the sheer range of emotions that can be conveyed with just a certain look they give is startling. This level of detail makes the characters utterly believable and consequently results in a very engaging experience.
Michael Giacchino’s terrific score is also a highlight, featuring both suitably bombastic percussion, but also quieter moments such as the delicate piano of the opening sequence. He even finds time to homage the original 60’s Planet of the Ape’s score at certain points.
Some viewers may be turned off by the slow burn of the story, the realisation that they have to spend a significant portion of film reading subtitles (gasp!) that accompany much of the apes communication, or the fact that Gary Oldman really only gets one scene to showcase just how good he really is. However, fans of ‘Rise’ will definitely get a kick out of the new and interesting direction Dawn has taken – an apocalyptic western played fairly straight – a far cry from the campy sci-fi fantasy of the original Apes movies or even Tim Burton’s 2001 miss-step for that matter.
Quiet possibly the surprise hit of the summer.
19th July 2014