Making another Apes film is always risky – the franchise previously has a mixed bag to say the list. So given its success, a direct sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was almost inevitable. Taking the mantle from its predecessor, lead-ape Caesar has created a colony overlooking the much changed city of San Francisco wherein humans are struggling to maintain a new form of their existence. A ‘simian flu’ wipes a vast number of the population and the initial ape uprising claiming more, the effects are made clear throughout. With dwindling power, a human accidentally stumbles across Caesar’s colony whilst looking for a dam which sets in motion the inevitable collision course between apes and humans.
The real strength of Dawn lies within its ability to say nothing verbally but tell everything. The CGI on the apes, Caesar in particular, is utterly breathtaking. We get a clear understanding of the power in the colony and the politics contained within, the vast majority of this (the occasional subtitled hand-gesture aside) is through action and expressions. This is not simply the wonder of the CGI, the performances of Andy Serkis and other apes is clearly wonderful and utterly powerful.
The actors charged with providing the roles of the humans are completely absorbing and the action and reactions between the two is indistinguishable – a far cry from 1968! Despite the marketing campaign, lead human Malcolm is played by Jason Clarke (with Gary Oldman as Dreyfus, a supporting character) who manages to convey desperation and emotion needed for humans that are faced with this unimaginable uprising.
Thematically, the notion of politics both within the human camp and the ape camp is rife which is extremely rich for a big-budget blockbuster. The concept of where the power lies both internally and between the two factions ensures an engaging battle when the inevitable occurs. One particular scene on the first meeting between Caesar and Dreyfus invokes images from the 1968 original and is one of the most surprising and gripping scenes in the film. Caesar as a leader is looking simply for peace and coexistence between humans and apes however not all apes are as forgiving as Caesar with the returning Koba always looking for a way to undermine (with respect) Caesar’s orders.
From a technical level, Dawn is magnificent and it shows the credit both to it and the narrative that they are not really noticeable. It’s not a case of sitting there, marvelling at the gorgeousness of the images on the screen or the rich thematic context created, it’s more a case that the narrative is so absorbing that those types of readings only come once the narrative has concluded and sunk in.
Leaving the franchise in a fantastic place for the next sequel, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has directed one of the most gorgeous, well-made, thematically rich big budget summer blockbusters in recent memory. If any blockbuster beats this in terms of scale, thematic richness and pure storytelling, what a summer we’re in for!