While a stand-alone reboot can scope interest in a franchise, it is the sequels that determine their longevity. Such was the case of this movie, which not only came three years after the surprise success that was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but proved that the series still has a place in the film world. And, it’s far better than anybody could have anticipated.
In the decade since a man-made virus wiped out most of humanity, Caesar (Andy Serkis) has asserted himself as the undisputed leader of an intelligent, civilised primate clan – there are laws that the apes must adhere to, and they even have their offspring attending school. As well as that, Caesar has a growing family, with his partner Cornelia (Judy “Cheryl” Greer) having just given birth to their second son. Not far from their camp is the city of San Francisco, Caesar’s former home, which is seemingly devoid of life.
It is only after a chance encounter with a small group of humans, led by the level-headed Malcolm (Jason Clarke), that the colony of apes discover San Francisco is indeed populated, and currently under the control of Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). At least, he has some semblance of control – with the city’s power supply running low, the society he fosters may well collapse. Believing that the humans are of no immediate harm, Caesar warns them not to return to his home, and leaves them be.
In hope of a compromise, Malcolm ventures into the forest once again to reason with Caesar, explaining that a nearby hydro-electric power station is the city’s last hope for survival. After some reluctance, Caesar agrees to let Malcom’s team enter their habitat and repair the hydro-generator. This act causes grief among his fellow apes, including one-time friend and ally Koba (Toby Kebbell), whose grievances to Caesar go ignored.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a significant improvement over its predecessor – while far from a bad film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was let-down by a lack of personality in its characters. Here, character development is one of the film’s greatest strengths, making it far more investing. The characters, be they human or ape, are emotionally complex, possessing both protagonistic and antagonistic qualities. Additionally, the vagaries of these characters allow for some interesting discussions regarding leadership, prejudice and belonging.
Such attributes help to provide Dawn with a darker tone, but this tone may be too dark for some viewers. One or two somewhat shocking moments give the movie a cheerless demeanour, with the lack of humour in the script only reinforcing this notion. That said, this approach is diametric to that of many Hollywood blockbusters, helping to distinguish the picture from its competition.
One of the other wonders in this film is special effects, which are also an improvement over the previous Apes instalment. Much like that film, motion-capture technology is used to make the appearance and movements of the primates seem as realistic as possible, and one may even be fooled into believing they are. As well as that, the amount of tension coming from the plot is extraordinary, building to point where it is impossible not to be captivated.
Those after a tense, thought-provoking experience need look no further, for the excellent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is exactly that. With complex characters, an intelligent story, and thrills aplenty, it is proof that this venerable franchise can still entertain the masses, and then some.
This film was previously reviewed for YO Bendigo on July 31st, 2014.