“The technology, already used to staggering degree in Rise, is pushed to its absolute limit in Dawn.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review
by Matt Allen

Certificate: 12A
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
Director(s): Matt Reeves
Screenwriter(s): Scott S. Burns, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Running Time: 130 minutes

The original had such an impact on cinema that its influence can still be spotted in today’s releases. The sequels to follow were…not quite so good and the Burton ‘re-imagining’ is best left forgotten, but the recent run of prequels (starting with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes) have set their sights on returning the franchise to its former glory. By applying a realist approach to the ‘absurd’ notion of a planet dominated by an Ape-riarchal society – and with the aid of today’s foremost performance capture pioneers – Matt Reeves and his team aim to bestow credibility to the course of events that eventually leads to Charlton Heston’s gurning misanthrope arriving on The Planet of the Apes

Human survivors of a vicious disease known as Simian Flu clash with the recently established ape community when mankind trespasses on their land. Commander-in-Chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) attempts to maintain peace in the face of war mongers on both sides.

Since it’s the Dawn of their Planet, let’s start with the Apes. The technology, already used to staggering degree in Rise, is pushed to its absolute limit in Dawn. The performance capture technology – developed by Weta and first used significantly in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings – is unleashed from the shackles of the soundstage and let loose on the swamps of New Orleans, accompanied by Native 3D cameras. This equipment is nothing if not cumbersome, usually reserved for use in the relative comfort of an enclosed set, so there should be a certain amount of respect granted simply for attempting such an ambitious shoot. 

That is all well and good, but there are rarely points given for effort alone. Fortunately, Reeves and the team pull the stunt off gracefully. The pay-off for lumbering all that gear through the wilderness means that the apes and their primitive tree-house community feel like a part of the real world – something that helps to ease the inherent surrealism of the apes themselves.

Andy Serkis returns triumphantly as Caesar, the wise and noble leader of the apes, and brings with him years of performance capturing knowledge which undoubtedly proved invaluable to the production. However, the award for MVP (Most Valuable Primate) has to go to Toby Kebbell in the role of the mutinous Koba. Originally portrayed by a stuntman in the first of the series, Koba’s role is far more substantial in this sequel and consequently a more demanding role. Kebbell steps in to convey a presence of sheer malevolence, even through layers of CGI, that stands up alongside some of the best villainous performances of all time.

Just as with its predecessors, Dawn uses the overarching premise to analogise the themes of war, oppression and self-destruction. As is to be expected, the apes and humans eventually find themselves at odds with each other, with both sides exhibiting compassion as well as contempt. In many ways, it’s the perfect way to explore the issues of conflict and maltreatment seen to be experienced between mankind. The use of apes simply highlights the differences (or lack thereof) between opposing forces.

Astonishing performances by those magnificent men and their motion capture machine mean that the suspension of disbelief can legitimately be achieved – no small feat for a film about a sentient-simian takeover. The CGI wobbles on rare occasions – and there is some toing and froing in regards to plot – but otherwise Dawn is not only a technological marvel, but also an exhilarating and immersive piece of entertainment.