(Rating: 12A, 130 mins) Written by Zen Terrelonge
Starring – Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell.
The most mind-bending and peculiar thing about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is that you really buy into what you’re watching, which is a jarring experience given the lead character is an ape.
Of course, said ape’s performance is played out by fantasy actor supremo, Andy Serkis, who is more than familiar with motion capture techniques thanks to his portrayal of Lord of The Rings’ Gollum (or Smeagol depending which mood he’s in).
Serkis first stepped into the fur of king of the swingers, Caesar, three years ago in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which set the scene for how genetic experiments had enhanced the intelligence of tailless tree-dwellers but backfired to bring about a virus fatal to people – a bad day at the office if ever there was one.
The film opens by revealing just how deadly the epidemic was, killing off millions of the world’s population following the end of Rise where it all began.
Fast forward a decade and the apes are living in a wonderfully-constructed, human-free woodland harmony, assembling together in a colony clear of man’s interference to operate as a single impenetrable unit.
The familiar faces of pensive orangutang adviser Maurice and hotheaded human-hater Koba (Kebbell) are back, which enriches the story with character development as the gentle giant is teaching the community and eager to learn, while Caesar’s fellow chimp has become something of his second-in-command and perhaps even more feral.
While enough years have passed for Caesar to now become a father and husband of two, some things can’t be forgotten, and that’s all too clear when a band of human survivors come across the apes.
Without really saying a great deal, which is testament to Serkis’ ability, the leader of the apes radiates control and it’s clear his power is respected throughout the group, including Koba, who frequently disagrees with his decisions – in this instance, befriending the group he hates.
Due to Koba’s past of being caged and mistreated, Kebbell gives Serkis a run for his money, having more opportunity to deliver a range of emotions that makes it possible to sympathise with his situation.
A fragile alliance is put into place to keep both species from killing one and other, and I loved that there is a constant sense of dread and unease swinging throughout the film between the two best friends, as well as the humans.
In addition to the ape actors, Weta Digital also deserves an enormous amount of praise for magnificently transforming the cast into unrecognisable beasts, all of whom have their own defining characteristics.
As for the humans, James Franco’s scientist is no longer in the lead, though he hasn’t been forgotten as Caesar compares his former father figure to newcomer and “a good man” Malcom (Clarke) who leads the survivors alongside Oldman’s ‘villainous’ Dreyfus.
After bit parts in the likes of White House Down and Lawless, Clarke showcases a more compassionate and non-psychotic side, proving his potential as a leading man.
I did initially have my reservations about Oldman though. The trailer made it seem as though he was portraying an generic bad guy who couldn’t be reasoned with, convinced the apes were filthy animals, but that really wasn’t the case and his character is every bit as damaged as counterpart, Koba.
It would have been nice to see more of him though – as in for more than 20 minutes.
At times, homage was paid subtly without ever coming across as tacky, with some of the original Planet of the Apes theme music used in the odd scene – though it did clash somewhat with the obvious impending doom.
Overall, “apes together; strong.”