Nestled in dense pre-historic forest stands an imposing wooden fortress; it glows splendidly with flaming torches, wooden turrets towering above the wild landscape, and what is more, it teems with super-evolved apes.
In the decade since Andy Serkis’ rebellious chimp, Caesar led a violent uprising against the human race, bonds between the species are more frayed than ever. As the sophisticated society of apes enjoys omnipotence in their wild surroundings, humanity – ravished by the devastating simian flu – is left clinging to life in the decaying ruins of San Francisco. The once glistening Golden Gate Bridge is encrusted with lichen, the City Hall lies beneath thick swathes of undergrowth and the town’s only power supply is on the brink of extinction.
In a race for survival, led by Gary Oldman’s power-hungry Deyfus, humans are forced onto ape territory. When the two species meet again a cautious armistice emerges, only to be threatened by Machiavellian morals, the power of arms and a frightening thirst for war as a means to peace.
The film is a gasp-inducing spectacle – it’s not just the chimps who have evolved, CGI has too. Serkis’ Caesar is wonderfully expressive, his glistening eyes melting from sterling resilience to anguished lament. The lines between action and animation often blur to such an extent that it is difficult to determine where the acting begins and the artistry of CGI takes hold. Director Matt Reeves’ detailed sets provide depth and realism; obscure mists, dizzying rain and a pervasive dampness set the post-apocalyptic scene, which, paired with Michael Seresin’s bold score, makes for atmospheric brilliance.
Where many a big budget franchise will trade spectacle for story, Dawn is remarkably astute. Explorations of tolerance, xenophobia, dictatorship and diplomacy underpin the drama, often feeling close to home, particularly in our multi-ethnic cities. In Orwellian fashion, the apes’ principal commandment “Ape no kill ape” is subverted as Koba – the Shakespearean villain of the piece – revels in supremacy, violence and greed.
Despite the vast scenes of gunfire and bloodshed, there is no glorification of violence. Each time a gun is wielded or the thundering sound of a grenade streaks the air, poignant ripples of sorrow are felt. Weaponry’s callous power to annihilate in the blink of an eye becomes, for the audience, an intolerable evil.
Marrying brains and brawn, Reeves has created a blockbuster that not only the dazzles the eye but also the wits.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is released nationwide on 17th July 2014.
Watch the trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes here: