In 2011 Rise of the Planet Of the Apes was an unexpected smash hit and now this superb sequel, Dawn of the Planet Of the Apes raises the bar even higher. This film is much darker and more tragic - we witness the simian revolution reaching unprecedented levels of anarchy as the troubled apes strive for their independence, with shocking results. It is a great action/science fiction movie – technically impressive, vivid, tense and violent and leaves you with plenty to think about.
The action begins almost a decade after the first film left off and the situation at the outset is pretty clear, so even if you missed the first film, you will have no trouble catching up. The Simian virus unleashed at the end of Rise has wiped out most of the world’s human population and left the rest desperate to survive. During those bleak years, the apes flourished building a home for themselves, happy that they had no humans to contend with. The ape community is now much enlarged and integrated with enhanced capabilities – they can ride horses, handle firearms and communicate mostly through a type of sign language, relayed through subtitles. Caesar (played by Andy Serkis) is now an adult ape with responsibilities. He has united the rest of the apes, and the world that they've made for themselves is harmonious and peaceful. The forests they inhabit are gorgeous and made even better watching the film in 3D. The visual effects work superbly well - you’re enveloped by dark, thick greens, wet leaves, clouds, mist and moisture. You will recognise several of the apes from the first film, like the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), the loyal chimp Rocket (Terry Notary), and Cornelia (Judy Greer), who is now Caesar's wife.
The world has been plunged into a new dark age. There are a few remaining bands of survivors who exist in isolation which means they have trouble getting basic resources. They are led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a former military man furious that his family was lost to the virus. Cautious, former architect and widower Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his nurse girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) and Malcolm’s insecure teen son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) spearhead a project to locate a dam in ape territory. They need it so that they can recover the city’s electricity. With relationships between the apes and humans still desperately fragile, this is a dangerous undertaking and it means they will have to encroach on land which is ruled by Caesar. Caesar knows that the way to maintain peace is through co operation and he grants them limited access to the dam. However, not all the apes approve and particularly irate is Koba (Toby Kebbell), a hot-headed and human-hating ape for whom the only good human is a dead human. He is distrustful and cannot see any good in humans in the way that Caesar can. A fragile truce is eventually formed but fear, ignorance and mistrust threaten to destroy the goodwill. When one of the humans is revealed to have broken Caesar’s “no guns” condition, events take a dramatic and violent turn. The great Caesar, thought dead, is replaced by Koba, who is intimidating and forceful and launches a very aggressive counter-movement. Once the humans have come in contact with the apes, tragedy is inevitable. An initial ape foray into the city is shocking and the mass violence and destruction that soon follows is a bitter reminder of the evils of war. Regardless of which side you will take, the fallout is spectacular and the big showdown is both amazing and frightening.
The previous film’s cast is almost entirely replaced but Andy Serkis has crucially been promoted to the role of Caesar. Serkis is remarkable and continues to demonstrate how rich and interesting an actor he is. He gives the most expressive, soulful, deeply felt performance of a non-human character I have ever seen, giving us anger, pity, trust and despair, mostly with his facial expressions and body language. Kebbel is a real surprise - his work is fantastic and he really convinces us with his brute physicality and deeply felt ire. He strongly captures the slow but clever way Koba gathers his nerves before finally replacing the greatly revered Caesar. Between the two of them, I could have watched an entire film that didn't even deal with human beings at all!
On all levels, this movie is memorable and powerful. It is a truly gripping account of interspecies conflict, shattered trusts and the tragic failure to coexist and it will not disappoint. Using a predominantly simian cast, it manages to produce a very powerful statement and will leave you questioning who we are and whether we really deserve ownership of the planet. I was not only impressed by this movie but deeply moved and I have no doubt it will do extremely well worldwide. It is as good as any big-budget science fiction movie gets both technically, visually and emotionally – don’t miss it!