Set around ten years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, mankind has been wiped out by a devastating virus first introduced at the end of the first film. The apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), have flourished without human interference, using subtle sign language to communicate with one another. After a group of human survivors come across the huge Simian community, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his family begin a tenuous relationship with Caesar. Koba (Toby Kebbell) on the other hand, who is scarred physically and mentally by the torture he received by the humans, has nothing but revenge on his mind, propelling the humans and the apes into a violent battle for species hierarchy.
Matt Reeves, who directed Cloverfield and more impressively Let Me In, manages to build the tension between the two species until finally going all out war in the final half hour. But beneath the action, Reeves creates this incredible connection with the audience and the apes, in particularly with Caesar. We feel Caesar’s heavy task to not only raise a family but to maintain amity within his community and ultimately, between the humans. Reeves has created a much bleaker film than Rise, inevitably allowing little room for humour but replacing it with more necessary themes such as leadership and empathy.
Undoubtedly, Andy Serkis delivers one of his best and arguably the greatest performance ever seen through motion capture technology. His impeccable facial expressions combined with WETA’s breathtaking visual effects are a celebration of both his skill as an actor and the advancements in modern CGI. Jason Clarke does a tremendous job as the human leader, manifesting a believable chemistry with Serkis’ character, while Gary Oldman and Keri Russell do a solid job with their smaller roles.
The production design by James Chinlund sets us in a very apocalyptic environment located in and around San Francisco, even for the Simians who inhabit the wasteland jungle living in handmade tree houses. The superb production design is truly complimented by Michael Seresin’s cinematography, creating a damp, ominous atmosphere throughout the entire film. Rick Jaffa, Mark Bomback and Amanda Silver, who wrote the terrific screenplay, have not only created an action film but also an epic war story, delving into the consequences of battle, especially for the Simians. For people who are yet to see the first film need not worry as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes simply uses the previous installment as a context for the ‘war’ plot, which at times does not dare as much as it could have.
The last few seconds of the film will undoubtedly galvanize the audience to watch the trailer again, along with the upcoming sequel due in 2016. But besides the incredible visual effects, with the huge benefit of Serkis’ flawless performance, Reeves has easily managed to surpass the previous installment, tackling darker and wider themes and ultimately, creating a film that asks us the indefinite question: which species are the humans?
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is in Australian cinemas from 9 July through 20th Century Fox.