In the wake of a scientific disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.
When we last left ape-world aka Earth back at the end of 2011’s prequel-come-reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, relations between humans and our simian cousins were pretty much destroyed.
They’ve only got worse in the intervening years: to the point where most of humanity has been wiped out by a virulent plague to which only 1 in 500 of our race is immune. Gaggles of survivors hang on by a thread, their resources all but extinguished.
The genetically superior ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) has created his own utopia high in the mountains near San Francisco. The apes live in a self-made state of peace. The only rule they have is that “Apes don’t kill apes.”
Rampant in the wild, they’re developing a sophisticated language through sign and speech. Many have a basic grasp of English. They are under the impression that the humans have been wiped out until former architect Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his group stumble into their territory.
The apes are chomping at the bit to take the human on but Caesar stops them. In his civilisation what he says goes; no questions. Well until now…
A fuel crisis has sent Malcolm into ape territory, where resuscitating a hydroelectric dam is his community’s last hope to restore power. With Caesar’s help a wary truce is achieved, on the condition that Malcolm and his companions surrender arms, which they willingly do.
Koba (Toby Kebbell), a gnarly old ape who has only ever known the bad side of humans thanks to his time in the testing labs, starts a rebellion against Caesar. He evens tries to recruit Caesar’s son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).
There are many more firearms and ammo back in the downtown stronghold where resistance leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) rules the roost.The only factor preventing the ape’s global takeover is the stubborn ability of humankind to resist extinction by any means necessary, which in this case means taking up arms.
Where its predecessor in the series imagined the growing consciousness of apes in revolt, this one plunges us into a war of gorillas versus guerrillas – a form of strife without clear winners, and one in which we’re never forced to choose one side over the other. Instead we take sides within sides, Caesar versus Koba.
Caesar and Malcolm must pick sides, but will they be backing their own species?
From a design and effects point of view, the film builds splendidly on what was achieved last time. The sets for both the ape encampment and human fortress are stunningly persuasive. Landmarks of derelict downtown San Francisco, caked in creeping moss give the perfect illusion of an abandoned city.
When the truce goes spectacularly wrong, director Matt Reeves makes it go dark, hellish and disorientating which results in some scarily believable, and breath-taking moments.
There’s a King Kong moment that perfectly captures the mayhem of the night, as Koba seizes control of a rotating tank turret, and the camera follows it through multiple 360-degree turns, taking in all kinds of sound and fury.
Reeves is a talented director, and this movie is testament to that. He broaches the subject of diplomacy, law and leadership without coming across as preachy.
However this movie’s greatest strength- the apes, is also its pitfall. At times it’s monkey-mad silliness gone crazy. There’s a scene with Koba riding a horse into battle whilst shooting at humans, with a firearm in each hand.
Reeves’ sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes never allows extraordinary special effects to outgun emotion and intelligence. If you want to see a squeaky-clean adaptation of the original then you will be disappointed. It’s the dirt and despair that makes this movie so enjoyable.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in UK cinemas on Thursday 17th July 2014.
By Ruth Walker