The apes have risen, humanity is on its knees, but the fight for survival is only just beginning. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is a much darker film, set 10 years after its predecessor, establishing a world in which human beings are no longer the primates on top.
Set as a rebooted prequel for the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise was well paced, had likeable characters, and made great use of motion capture technology. This, combined with some great looking footage in the trailers for Dawn, meant the anticipation for this sequel was inevitably substantial. However, though coming very close, Dawn falls just short of expectation, with a slow start and one or two seemingly flat characters.
The film begins with a didactic opening title sequence briefing us on the outbreak and spread of the Simian Flu, which led to humanity’s fall from evolutionary superiority. We are then reintroduced to the apes as the film’s leading characters, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the adoptive chimp of Will Rodman (James Franco) in Rise.
Dawn falls just short of expectation, with a slow start and one or two seemingly flat characters.
Three years on from the first movie, and the franchise’s employment of motion capture technology has advanced tremendously, resulting in the apes’ appearance being both realistic and more recognisably human. Sadly, the leap in visual and technological spectacle is overshadowed by half an hour of subtitled sign language. Those talking apes from the trailer? You’re going to have to wait a bit for those.
The apes believe that the humans have gone extinct, but soon learn that there is a small colony of survivors living amidst the ruins of San Francisco, led by the militaristic Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). The human colony is about to be driven into darkness as fuel is running out. Their only hope for power? A hydroelectric dam, conveniently located deep within the apes’ Muir Woods territory, claimed Caeser and his loyal followers.
Jason Clarke leads a small band of survivors into negotiating an uneasy interspecies peace. Yet with a tense history between the races ever present, there are those on both sides prepared to start a war, while others within the distinct hominoids collide in a conflict realisation that apes and humans are not all that different.
As mentioned earlier, aside from the slow start, the film’s other main flaw is lacking character development. The bad guys are absent of definition, coming across as bitter, violent and a great contrast to the more morally liberal protagonists. Sadly, Gary Oldman’s character is particularly damned by this disparity, which I felt was a great shame.
Once Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets going, there are some truly brilliant moments. Much darker than Rise in tone, theme and performance, some of the fight scenes, be it ape vs ape or ape vs man, are not only cathartic but also fantastic. Clearly working with a much bigger budget than its antecedent, the climatic scenes contain some real edge of your seat sequences.
The apes have risen, humanity is on its knees, but the fight for survival is only just beginning.
Though director Matt Reeves and the film’s three writers do not manage to redeem the slow start, they do bring Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a lot closer to the brilliance of Rise with a fulfilling final act. I look forward to the inevitable part three (in part, just to see what word they put on the front of ‘of the Planet of the Apes’– or will we get a straight Planet of the Apes?), which has been announced for a July 2016 release.