Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Lauren reviews one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year which opens in the UK on 17th July.

When Charlton Heston discovered that his Planet Of The Apes was actually earth back in 1968 it quickly became one of film’s most shocking revelations. Over 40-years later Rupert Wyatt explained how it could happen in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and after successfully starting the story, 2014 will see the release of sequel Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes from Cloverfield director Matt Reeves.

To say that Dawn is action-packed would be an understatement with an incredible amount of story being covered in its 130-minutes. With most of the world’s population killed off by the virus unleashed 10-years earlier, plus even more destroyed by the resulting war and break down of society, Caesar’s community has been left to thrive in the woodland area of San Francisco.

Now a father and leader of a very large ape community he has taken on a massive amount of responsibility since the end of the last film and all the issues that comes with it. When the apes discover that there are human survivors living nearby, Caesar is torn between the potential threat they pose to his way of life and his desire to keep peace.

For those of you expecting to spend the whole film watching humans screw things up again, you might be surprised. Undoubtedly the human settlement doesn’t deal well with the discovery of intelligent apes, but this isn’t a one-dimensional “it’s-all-the-humans-fault” film, and Reeves’ has made the effort to show both the good and bad side of apes and humans. If the special effects in Rise blew you away then you won’t fail to be impressed by the stunning visuals in Dawn. Long gone are the days of rubber masks and body suits, and thanks to the amazing motion picture technology you can see every emotion and infliction on the apes’ face as if it was real. Having said that, the technology alone is not enough and Andy Serkis and his ape-actor co-stars will leave you in awe of their performances.

Making the apes look realistic wasn’t the only challenge Reeves faced, as unlike in Rise the apes have now started talking. Thanks to genetic manipulation they are extremely intelligent and have started using sign language to communicate with each other by the end of the 2011 film, but how to you move on to them using human speech in a realistic way? Apparently the answer is for them to use a mixture of sign language and sounds most of the time (with subtitles for the humans in the audience), whilst slowly introducing the audience to them speaking when it’s really important. Even the reaction of the humans to witnessing the apes talk for the first time is handled well, making something which could have quite easily become a joke, instead shockingly believable.

Jason Clarke is the film’s main human star Malcolm, who’s set up a semi-civilised community of surviving humans along with former Chief of Police Dreyfus; played by Gary Oldman. While it’s a little odd how quickly Malcolm and his family get over the shock of meeting Caesar, it isn’t the apes he’s afraid of, or even the virus that’s killed most everyone else he knows. What he’s trying to prevent is a return to the death and destruction that humanity fell into when civilisation collapsed – a refreshing change from the usual motivations of similar movies.

On the opposite side we have Koba who at first seems to have become loyal to Caesar since he saved him in Rise, but more than any other ape struggles to trust the humans thanks to the abuse he suffered in their labs. Anyone who questions how scary a film about attacking apes can really be will instantly swallow their words once they watch Koba charging through flames brandishing a rifle, and not a single tragedy of war is spared during the fighting scenes.

With absolutely brilliant performances across the board, a heart-breaking cameo from James Franco, and an ending which promises much more to come, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes not only builds on the appeal of the original story but challenges all other sci-fi films to step up to the mark. Proving there’s no end to what you can achieve when you put your mind to it, this is a film which not only impresses in the special effects department but refuses to compromise the story whilst doing so.

Lauren O'Callaghan

Updated: Jul 13, 2014

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