In 2011, the dead & dusted franchise of Planet of the Apes was successfully resurrected by Rise of the Planet of the Apes; the origin story of the rebooted series, which turned out to be the surprise blockbuster of its year considering that there was no significant buzz at the box-office prior to its release & even the prediction from marketing pundits was never in its favour. Yet, despite going ahead with heavy risks of failure, the first attempt at reviving a once-legendary franchise of cinema didn’t only pay off in the end as it managed to surprise critics & viewers alike with its smooth blend of a cleverly scripted story & quality entertainment but by the end of the year, it went on to rank amongst the most successful films of 2011 on both critical & commercial scales, achieving all that purely on the basis of its strong word-of-mouth praise.
And now three years later, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes finally surfaces amidst enormous hype & expectations as the second chapter of the rebooted franchise and continues the story of Caesar & his legion of genetically evolved apes. The plot is set in a dystopian future & takes place 10 years after the events of the first film, in the span of which the majority of human population has been wiped out after the outbreak of the deadly ALZ-113 virus from the last film. When a small group of human survivors from San Francisco unknowingly step into the apes’ territories in search of an alternate power source, they encounter a new generation of apes led by Caesar and a fragile peace is reached between the two. But it proves to be short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.
Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield & Let Me In), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes features a much darker premise in comparison to the adventurous tone of the original and presents Reeves in fabulous form as he takes the direction responsibilities from Rupert Wyatt & succeeds in carving up a sequel that has something in store for every viewer. The screenplay is a gem in itself for it adds an incredible amount of detail, depth & characterisation to the whole story in addition to plethora of thematic elements. Production design team deserves kudos too as the set pieces provide the film a post-apocalyptic look & even the shooting locations are wisely chosen. Cinematography adds a gritty layer to its story & exhibits clever use of lighting & close-ups while editing presents an admirable level of patience in its pacing that’s rare in summer blockbusters.
What’s even more impressive is that even though it is a sequel, it is crafted like a standalone feature that can work without being entirely dependent on its predecessor, which isn’t usually the case with most sequels in cinema. The one thing that impressed me a lot in the previous chapter was Weta Digital’s jaw-dropping rendition of the digital apes & how astonishingly real they looked on the camera. Well, come to the sequel & you’ll discover that this steadily rising VFX studio has added even more accuracy, authenticity & realism in the depiction of apes & their evolving nature. And this sort of precision not only applies to the amazing visuals here but sound as well. The background score by Michael Giacchino is also reimagined from the ground up and his composition is very much in tune with the tense mood & feel this sequel was aiming for.
Coming to the acting department, the digital apes simply outperform their human counterparts in almost every single scene and were far more expressive & interesting than them. Amongst the human cast, Jason Clarke plays Malcolm; the leader of the small band that encountered Caesar & his group and who desires a mutually peaceful co-existence between the two species, just like Caesar. And even though Clarke gets to have the maximum screen time amongst all human survivors, his isn’t really an intriguing character. Gary Oldman is one of the most underrated actors working in the industry today & here he’s in as Dreyfus; the leader of the remaining survivors in San Francisco, and does a pretty good job in illustrating his scripted character but there isn’t much of him in the final cut. Others also chip in with fine contributions but the arcs of the human characters just isn’t as brilliantly written as their apes counterparts.
As for the motion-capture performances, the most impressive work once again comes from Andy Serkis (which really isn’t much of a surprise) as he reprises his role of Caesar & gets to explore many more dimensions than before. Serkis this time portrays Caesar as a sensible leader, a protective father & a compassionate friend who above everything else cares about his community & family and does not want another war with humans. Toby Kebbell is absolutely menacing as Koba; Caesar’s second-in-command who holds a strong grudge against the humans for his mistreatment by them & conspires to start a war between the two species. Nick Thurston plays Blue Eyes; Caesar’s son & his emotions are beautifully expressed. The rest of the supporting work in the motion-capture department is nicely captured & thanks to the excellent depth in their characterisations, the apes seem far more human than the human beings depicted in this story.
From the beginning, there is a looming tension present in the story & Reeves manages to sustain it with such fine grip that most viewers will find themselves on the edge of their seats for the majority of its runtime. Sure there are little moments of silly monkey madness but once you’re past that, it’s difficult to not be impressed by its scope, ambition & meticulous attention given to characters. On an overall scale, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an ingeniously directed, deftly scripted, tightly structured, darkly photographed, firmly edited & magnificently scored cinema that benefits mostly from Serkis’ remarkable screen presence and implements a fine balance between its storytelling elements & action spectacle to come out as a genuine blockbuster material. Covering the themes of family, leadership, fear, loss & vengeance in an elegant manner while also making a powerful statement against the use of arms, the second chapter of the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise is a major step-up that’s darker, stronger & bigger than its predecessor and succeeds in delivering everything it promised & even more.