The latest offering in the recently resurrected Planet of the Apes franchise is a very strong entry indeed. In fact, it could be even better than the last (very good) film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes emphasises all the stronger elements of the series, with a large dose of future shock dystopia, thought provoking political allegory, and of course plenty of action.
Screenwriters Mark Bomback, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa follow on almost directly from the world wide plague that decimated Earth at the end of the previous instalment. Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis) now runs the ape colony in the Redwoods near a devastated San Francisco. Believing all the humans to be dead, Caesar and his apes are surviving peacefully until they encounter a group of humans in the forest led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who has survived in a virus-immune human colony led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). The humans want to utilise the power of a dam in ape territory, but were unaware of the ape colony. Misunderstandings and initial acts of violence give way to a fragile truce, but with rogue elements on sides wanting to sow distrust and provoke conflict, war between the humans and apes begins to look likely.
The highest compliment I can pay the extraordinary special effects is that one simply doesn’t notice them. Serkis arguably delivers a career-best performance, and the rest of the cast are good, though a little more Gary Oldman wouldn’t have gone amiss. It isn’t just the supporting human characters that impress either, but also the supporting apes (especially quietly wise Orang-utan Maurice – motion captured by Karin Konoval). Director Matt Reeves proves highly adept at staging both action and drama, and this is certainly his finest film to date. Michael Giachinno’s music is another glorious bonus, especially in the way it pays tribute to Jerry Goldsmith’s original, largely percussive score.
There is also plenty of hefty moral meat to chew. A gun control message is delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but sometimes sledgehammers are effective tools, and it is a message well worth heeding. Like all great science fiction (and indeed all great storytelling), this film holds up a mirror to the human condition and in this case confronts the ugly lies, fears, prejudices and selfishness that wreck diplomacy and lead to war. Such insight into human failing is universally relevant in almost any contemporary conflict situation.
In short, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is exciting, intelligent and thought-provoking.