Reviewing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a bit of a seminal moment in the history of Movie Burger – after all, the very first review on Movie Burger was for 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Fortunately, I’m happy to report that Dawn is a much better film than Rise – many are already likening it to The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight, although I probably wouldn’t go that far myself. That said, it’s nonetheless damn well worth your time.
Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) takes over the director’s chair from Rupert Wyatt, and succeeds in crafting an exceptional cinema-going experience. The story picks up some ten years or so after Rise with the world having been devastated by the Simian Flu, which conveniently kills humans but makes other apes smarter (and gives them the ability to talk… but let’s not question the science). This lays the foundation for a production that’s bigger and better than its predecessor in every way, with expert cinematography and outstanding performances from its principal cast.
Andy Serkis again works wonders as Caesar, which was to be expected, but the real surprise is Toby Kebbell as Caesar’s nemesis Koba (fans may remember Koba as the gnarly, scarred ape from Rise). The intensity of these two powerhouses is something to marvel at – their interaction with each other and the human survivors ratchets up the tension something shocking; the tone is palpable. The apes, featuring more returning favourites such as Maurice, are fully realised through the magic of motion capture and mind-blowing visual effects. This is the film to beat at the Oscars for best VFX.
Nevertheless, I do have a few niggles with Dawn. For example, the human characters are generally underdeveloped and underutilised. Gary Oldman in particular is wasted and Jason Clarke’s Malcolm is less interesting than Franco’s Will in Rise. Combine this lost potential with predictable plotting and what you have is a slick flick that’s incredibly polished but which plays it safe with its story arcs – from the outset, it’s relatively easy to see where the story is heading.
Still, don’t let that dissuade you. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a stellar piece of filmmaking and one of the best blockbusters to have been released so far this year. The screenplay has some issues, but they’re ultimately minor. Whenever the apes are on screen, which is most of the time, Dawn comes to vivid life and pulls you into its damp and desperate post-apocalyptic world.