Evolution has been rewritten, man and ape have been redefined, and only one will be left as Earth’s dominant species. Welcome to the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
10 years after the ALZ-113 virus was unleashed upon the world, ravaging mankind, a new order has been rising. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now the leader of a tribe of genetically evolved apes who have built themselves a home and created a society in the Muir Woods. Believing humanity to have long disappeared, they are awoken to their survival by a group of survivors led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who are part of a larger group who have reclaimed San Francisco under the military minded Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). But while Caesar and Malcolm try to build a fragile peace between the two species, the viciously scarred and volatile ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) wishes humanity destroyed, and a chain of events are sparked that could lead to all out war; unless Caesar stops it first.
Director Matt Reeves has crafted a phenomenal film which builds on its forebear, 2011’s ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ creating a new vision for these characters and the world they inhabit. Reeves’ is first and foremost a fan. Since he first signed on as director he made it known about his love for these characters and the concept of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise. His knowledge and passion for this universe created the canvas for a powerfully emotional and epic film, and he really did deliver.
Reeves’ ace was always Andy Serkis, the acting magician who channels creatures like no one else, and who again returned as the noble Caesar. Now older, wiser, and a committed father and leader to his family and tribe, Caesar is the majestic leader whose poise and stance is reminiscent of those of the great leaders of antiquity: Alexander, Augustus and off course his namesake. We also get to see Caesar the warrior this time around, and he’s a powerful, aggressive ape, who defends his family and tribe with a fierce passion.
Opposite Caesar is Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, a human survivor who like Caesar is trying to ensure the survival of his own family and species. Clarke portrays Malcolm as the everyman hero, a regular guy who has been thrust into extraordinary circumstances and who will fight tooth and nail to ensure the survival of his people and his family. The parallel’s between Caesar and Malcolm is also where one of the story’s key themes is: the journey and survival of two very different, but at the same time very similar families. Both Caesar and Malcolm have wives, Cornelia (Judy Greer) for Caesar and Ellie (Keri Russell), a former nurse for Malcolm, and both of them have teenage sons whom they want to do the right thing, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) for Caesar, who is a rebellious young ape, eager to prove himself and Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) for Malcolm, a young man who carries a sadness from having witnessed horrific things as a youth. Through the events of the film these two families become interlinked with one another, and the idea of these individual species completely leaves us as we are bound to their fate and survival.
While we have two completely gripping heroes we also have a very fearsome villain in the form of Koba; a scarred, angry, bitter and twisted ape who wants nothing more than to punish all human’s for the slights that he has suffered. What makes Koba a great villain is that fact that he’s a self-hating ape, his fearsome appearance marking him down against the heroic Caesar. When he seizes his chance for power he is exacting and without mercy, and Toby Kebbell’s performance is genuinely terrifying.
While Dawn Of Apes has some great action sequences, it’s the drama and intense emotional range of the characters that draws the audience in. The wizards at WETA Digital have created truly marvelous apes, who you literally believe are real, and they’ve done their job so well that after this film finished I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and was anticipating that I’d run into apes. Of all the apes I’d have to say my favorite was Maurice (Karin Konoval), an altered orangutan who is a very academic ape, priding intelligence and knowledge. In addition to the masters at WETA we also have Michael Giacchino’s haunting score which channels the otherworldly mystery of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as well as the tribal jungle beats of the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ score.
I can say I was a little let down by Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, who played a key role in the marketing campaigns for the film, and was relegated to an almost minor supporting part. But other than that Dawn of Apes came out on top.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a thoroughly moving and intense film, while it’s easy to get lost in its visual effects wizardry the filmmakers never lost sight of the film’s story or its characters. It’s so powerful and moving that it will stay with you long after you leave the cinema, and you’ll be bound to be seeing apes.