While the sort of reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise in 2011 had been an enjoyable watch, it isn’t a film that has left a major on mark with me since. While it is, of course, to early to tell if the follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, will have a lasting impact, it certainly seems to do pretty much everything a sci-fi blockbuster is supposed to do.
In doing this it is very much a film, and story, of two sides, one that appears on the face of things, and one that is very much, appropriately, behind its eyes.
On the surface Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a big slick blockbuster designed to wow audiences with special effects and action while connecting with our emotional side with some easily relatable characters.
These characters are very much what you’d expect and don’t stray too far from what you’ll find in hundreds of other films, there’s the thoughtful hero and his band of followers who, in one way or another, are analogous of a family and have in their midst a potentially well-meaning, but volatile character.
What makes things slightly different here is that there are two groups who could be described in this way, one human and one ape and, for the most part, it is the apes who are the more interesting bunch. On a basic visual level the apes, led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar, are astonishing as, despite being almost entirely motion captured, they are entirely convincing.
Along with this comes an emotional level that is equally believable, a particular highlight of the film comes in the opening 15 minutes as we are introduced to the ape society that has built up in the forests north of San Francisco since the near holocaust of humanity that has happened since the end of the previous movie. This sequence quickly and easily shows us how their society works and how the different social levels work together until humanity, who they seem to think has been all but wiped out, reappears and the plot is kick started in earnest.
The visual spectacle culminates in a terrific battle on the streets of San Francisco that remains entirely logical and, unlike a lot of special effects blockbusters, is very easy to follow and features an amazing shot of the ape Koba on the turret of a tank which looked like it could have come from any war movie of recent years, just with an ape instead of a man.
The technical achievement of the apes is breathtaking, especially on the occasions where Serkis comes through entirely in Caesar and it is somewhat confounding how you are watching a CG ape but at the same time the actor who has portrayed Ian Dury, amongst others.
The other side of the film, that which makes it a ‘proper’ piece of sci-fi and continue the legacy started by the 1968 original, is that it does turn a mirror onto real life.
The subject it deals with is one that has been exceptionally pertinent over the last decade, making this a true ‘war on terror’ film as the notion of ambiguity on either side in a war and the reasoning behind this is the crux.
In this we get our human hero Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Caesar as those trying to find a peaceful link between the two groups while, to a greater or lesser extent, their respective compatriots, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and particularly Koba (Toby Kebbell) look at things from the other side.
Between them are a range of characters designed to explore various aspects of the central issue with the most effective being, on the human side Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and on the apes side his counterpart Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston, and a sort of reference to Charlton Heston’s character in the original film) and Maurice (Karin Konoval), who also shares traits with Dreyfus.
This combination of spectacle and philosophical, issue based, drama is what sets Dawn of the Planet of the Apes apart from most popcorn fodder and, while it doesn’t quite the levels of rip-roaring enjoyability of the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy, it does leave one feeling somehow more nourished for it.