The opening of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes could come from Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion or even World War Z. The human population has been decimated by the strain of Simian Flu created in the film’s predecessor, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. A brief word from Obama, along with graffiti referencing avian virus H5N1, and Dawn’s extreme events are immediately rooted in our own world. The rapid newsreel fills in the gaps between Rise and Dawn, where human survivors are few and evolved apes are thriving.
It’s the visual attention to detail that makes Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes a very special blockbuster. Motion-capture pro Andy Serkis (Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies) reprises his role as ape leader Caeser whose facial expressions and body language are so impressive the technology becomes translucent, enabling us to see beyond the motion-capture and engage with the character beneath.
“Reeves has a gift for framing shots with maximum tension”
Caeser is Dawn’s central hero, stealing the limelight from human protagonist Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who shares a similar, peaceful world view. The human and ape world’s come to blows when humans enter the forest to repair a hydraulic damn, the only power source for the human city, but it soon becomes clear that fear and villainy exist on both sides. Ape Koba – a victim of torture in an experimental lab during Rise – believes war is the only solution.
This forthcoming war hinges on human possession of a vast armoury. The apes fear guns which, from their very first encounter with human survivors, pose a a very real threat, fuelling anxiety and enthusiasm for a pre-emptive strike. There’s a gentle message here about gun violence and a delicate, well-handled parallel to weapons of mass destruction.
Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) asserts himself as the right choice for Dawn, giving us a blockbuster that’s heavy on action and thick with atmosphere. Reeves has a gift for framing shots with maximum tension. The apes fix their gaze on the camera during an early confrontation – we look them in the eyes, intimidated and on edge. Later, Koba rushes into battle against a fiery background, mounted on horseback with a twisted snarl that tells us he’s crossed the line between agitated victim and disturbed criminal. As he commandeers a tank the turret rotates giving us a swirling snapshot of the chaos of war. Later still, dark, smoky corridors, flying debris and primeval howls escalate the carnage as apes loot the human city in frenzied excitement.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes has its blemishes – sporadic use of subtitling and a scattering of convenient plot points including a criminally under-protected armoury – but its transfixing battle sequences and convincing characters make this an intoxicating blockbuster that exquisitely sets up part three.
VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ 4/5
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