Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes - Cinema Review

'Reeves addresses a wealth of themes with substance, maturity and finesse that many mainstream blockbuster directors either wouldn't bother attempting or wouldn't have the first clue about how to approach'.

The fact that Andy Serkis receives top billing in the credits of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, as opposed to his special billing ("and Andy Serkis") at the end of the main cast list of its precursor Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, is significant both in the world of the film and within film industry history. In terms of the rebooted Planet Of The Apes universe, it confirms the continuation of the franchise as Caesar's (Serkis) story above anyone else's. In reality, it makes 20th Century Fox the first studio to finally acknowledge a motion capture creation by Serkis not just as "real acting", but as equally worthy of star billing as a live action performance.

Serkis' performance as Caesar at the centre of Dawn is consistently captivating, developing the character skilfully and believably from the superb groundwork laid in Rise. Having refined his motion capture skills over the last decade-and-a-bit, Serkis is now the unrivalled master of this kind of performance and Caesar in Dawn is undoubtedly his crowning achievement thus far. Of course, Weta Digital's astonishing CGI effects also deserve hearty praise, becoming ever more indiscernible from live action. That you regularly cease to register not only that Caesar and the other apes you are watching are computer-generated, but also that they are a different species to the human characters, is entirely to the credit of both Weta Digital and the mo-cap contingent of the cast.

As a sequel, Dawn succeeds thanks to screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver remaining faithful to the strong foundations they laid in Rise, whilst also being unafraid to take the franchise into new territory. This is from the opening moments a darker, more sombre film than Rise, a decision which pays dividends in creating a story of emotional power and authenticity. The ten years that have past between the end of the last film and the beginning of this one have not been kind to the human race; the well-realised wasteland that San Francisco has become providing a dour and chilling backdrop more likely to be seen in a post-apocalyptic zombie flick than your typical summer blockbuster.

Director Matt Reeves artfully refuses to rush matters, balancing well the intertwined diegeses of humans establishing contact with the apes once again and the increasingly captivating relationship between Caesar and Koba (Toby Kebbell). Whilst you'll predict some of the narrative beats before they happen, when the plot is unravelled with this level of skill it genuinely doesn't matter. The development of Koba from his relatively small supporting role in Rise to the pivotal figure he becomes here is masterful, Jaffa and Silver's screenplay marrying perfectly with Reeves' direction and Kebbell's impressive turn. The story played out between the two apes holds an almost Shakespearean quality, Koba gradually emerging as one of cinema's great Machiavellian figures opposite Caesar's tragically flawed protagonist.

What faults there are within Dawn regularly come from the filmmakers' over-ambition. This is a film containing a great many players, so it's almost inevitable that some characters end up somewhat undernourished, particularly on the homo sapiens side of things. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is the most well-rounded human presence, not unlike James Franco's Will from the first film, with Clarke delivering another impressive performance. Gary Oldman's Dreyfus, however, in truth works mainly thanks to the veteran's reliably strong turn. Others fare less well, feeling a little too simplistic to be credible - Carver (Kirk Acevedo) in particular feels more like a string of plot devices than a believable person. There are occasional issues within the apes too: the relationship between Caesar and his son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), for example, only resonates satisfyingly come the final act. The film also fails to resolve the testosterone-dominated nature of the action and sci-fi genres, with the female characters - both human and ape - firmly relegated to the sidelines.

Dawn's achievements far outweigh any shortcomings however. Reeves addresses a wealth of themes with substance, maturity and finesse that many mainstream blockbuster directors either wouldn't bother attempting or wouldn't have the first clue about how to approach, whilst also creating a genuinely engrossing and enjoyable movie. Two excellent films in, the rebooted Planet Of The Apes series now finds itself in a remarkably strong position, one which very few other franchise reboots have managed.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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