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Exhilarating and moving; an epic sequel.
on 19 July 2014
Rupert Wyatt's 2011 reboot of the Planet of the Apes Franchise, 'Rise', is one of my favourite films of the last few years. A thrilling action film with an intelligent narrative and plenty of heart, it was an almost totally unexpected and very pleasant surprise. For 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes', director Matt Reeves continues the story where Wyatt left off, and Reeves has satisfyingly made a sequel of such impressive quality that is at least the equal of its predecessor and in many aspects surpasses it.
The story takes place a decade since Caesar led his fellow apes to begin a new life away from captivity in the forests beyond San Francisco. The group has expanded and thrived and constructed a sort of ape city among the trees. Here, Caesar has continued to command the loyalty of his fellow simians and remains chief, while he now also has a young family of his own to protect. Back in San Francisco, many years have now passed since a deadly virus born from the gaseous form of the drug ALZ-113 (referred to as 'Simian flu') has all but wiped out the human race, though a pocket of survivors exhibiting a genetic resistance remains in the city. The apes and humans have thus been segregated until a chance meeting with a small band of human explorers reunites them once more, bringing back some old memories for Caesar while igniting tensions between the two groups that threatens to boil over into all-out war and a battle for evolutionary superiority.
The film plays on the natural mistrust that the apes have of the humans, and vice versa. While much of the fun of 'Rise' was in watching Caesar's ascension to power as a Spartacus-style leader of his fellow down-trodden apes, 'Dawn' focuses on Caesar's struggle to maintain a fragile peace between his own kind and the race he was brought up amongst. Chief antagonist is Koba, Caesar's general and one time laboratory bonobo whose innate hatred of the human race threatens to destroy all that Caesar has battled to build. In another motion-capture acting tour de force, the outstanding Andy Serkis is again the subject for Caesar's movements and expressions and gives an astonishingly powerful performance that is full of presence, depth and charisma. Caesar has all the makings of a classic film character.
Human performances again mostly take a back seat to Caesar's ongoing struggles. Gary Oldman is a little underused as the embattled leader of a human fraction living within a guarded tower amongst the ruins of San Francisco, but Jason Clarke has plenty to do as Malcolm, the lead of a small group of engineers that take up a role in diplomacy and begin to form a strong bond with Caesar.
The exhilarating action scenes and set pieces are of a grander scale than in 'Rise' and with the use of some truly spectacular digital effects that are as realistic as any you will see, makes for an absorbing visual feast. But the finest achievements of the film lie in it's thoughtful, emotional core, that cleverly aligns our sympathies with both apes and humans and makes for a moving and thoroughly rewarding experience that is far removed from the one-dimensionality of today's brainless blockbusters. Never mind that 'Dawn' heads for a not entirely unpredictable conclusion, this is a quite beautiful film that has clearly been crafted with great care and intelligence. A fabulous achievement. 9.5/10.
Blu-ray review to follow.