When the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes did surprisingly well, it was obvious that it was going to get a sequel. And 3 years later, Matt Reeves takes over as director for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. We see the return of Caesar (Andy Serkis, Lord of the Rings, The Prestige) 10 years after the Simian Flu has decimated the human population, as he has become the leader of a growing ape population amid the ruins of San Francisco. Tensions rise within the group as they encounter a human scouting party led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke, The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty) looking to use the nearby hydroelectric dam as a power source.
Capitalising on the one of the strongest points from Rise, Serkis’ performance remains just as nuanced and emotional, and this extends to the rest of the apes cast, in particular Caesar’s son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and second in command Koba (Toby Kebbell). In fact, Kebbell’s performance rivals that of Serkis, since Koba’s tyrannical malevolence is a perfect counterbalance of Caesar’s authoritative demeanour. And this is especially remarkable when you consider that these roles are conveyed almost entirely via body and sign language, with only a limited amount of dialogue between them.
However, the downside of this is that the human characters appear underwritten in comparison, especially Jason Clarke as a leading actor. He gives a functional performance but I didn’t have any emotional connection with his character. I felt more attached to the underutilised Gary Oldman, and one of his scene’s with him reflecting on some family photographs was one of the most emotionally powerful of the film. It was just a shame that he didn’t get more screen time. And as for the other roles, they felt as if they were there just to move the plot along.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ plot was surprisingly smart, brimming with tension and political undertones. It is a bit of a slow burn, but the pace is used to emphasise the conflict between the two groups. This makes the moment when it all comes to a head at the end of the second act all the more rewarding. This, coupled with some outstanding special effects, makes for a thrilling climax.
In a time where Hollywood has become flooded with unnecessary sequels and reboots, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stands out as being a clever, well-written blockbuster with exceptional mo-cap performances from Serkis and Kebbell. It’s only flaws come from an underwhelming human cast, but that doesn’t diminish the experience at all.