Caesar and his ape mates are back, and this time they are even smarter and scarier than ever. Set eight years after the events of the first film, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, much of the human population has been wiped out by a deadly virus, leaving only a tiny community of San Franciscans – led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) – to try and put the pieces of their destroyed world back together. Directed by Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a summer blockbuster you can believe in.
The humans have hit a snag: they are running out of power, and fast. Their only option is to reach and fix the broken dam across the bridge, but there is another problem: Caesar (Andy Serkis), Koba (Toby Kebbell), Rocket (Terry Notary) and the rest of their hairy gang of genetically modified primates are in the way. A small group, led by Malcolm – including his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) – seek to work with the animals in what is an unhealthy, and extremely fragile, truce.
The visual effects, impressive in Rise of but taken to another level here, are pretty awe-inspiring. It is often difficult to tell what is real and what is not with the apes, making them look not just extremely life-like, but often scary as hell – here is looking at you, Koba! Though instead of just high-fiving the motion capture and CGI guys, let us take a minute to praise Reeves who has moved the franchise on superbly from 2011 in such an intelligent and enjoyable manner. It would be easy to sit back and let the visuals do the talking – just look at Michael Bay and Transformers for that. However, this epic is far more than a battle of two species – it is clever, thoughtful and surprisingly poignant in both style and tone. Dawn of looks at not just how human and apes are different, but how they are so similar: it is a tale of trust, something too few have from either side, and for understandable reasons.
The ever-growing intellect of the ape race, shown through the increased use of the spoken, English word, is gradual but not overplayed, only speaking when needed to. There is distrust from either side – one that will eventually lead to further chaos and destruction – but there are also plenty of tender, sweet moments – an embrace, a sharing of a book, or a quick glance – proof a coalition may just, somehow, be able to be formed between the two sets of communities.
This has less of the sentimental, fluffy padding that Rupert Wyatt’s effort of three years ago carried, and although Dawn of may lag a little towards the end, it is an expertly crafted spectacle – both in storyline and visuals – and one that leaves us wanting more.