Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Review : DJ MACK

The latest Planet of the Apes outing sees the film continuing from the end of the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which concluded with a viral plague starting to sweep the planet. Picking up ten years on with most of the earth's population wiped out by this plague of virulence, the Apes are now the dominant species, thanks to their genetic development in the first film. But when Caesar (an utterly incredible Andy Serkis) and his tribe inadvertently meet a band of human survivors, the fragile agreement they reach is shattered by a lack of trust. With factions of the Apes not trusting the humans, and with Caesar urging them to give the humans a chance, division is imminent - and could threaten all species...
Dawn Of The Planet of The Apes had such ape expectations piled upon it after the intelligent and digitally impressive first film - and boy, does it deliver in spades. Starting a close up of Caesar's eyes (an image which book-ends both the beginning and end of the movie), the film is gripping and tense from start to finish. The opening sequence sets everything up - but subverts expectations as the apes hunt for food; relationships between father and son are defined as are tensions between Caesar and Koba (Kemmell) - both of which threaten to boil over when the humans arrive.
It's a testament done to Joe Letteri and his digital team at WETA, that when in fact they do show up, the live action creatures are the lesser on screen species in more ways than one. While the underwritten Clarke and Russell relatively impress in this Last of Us style world that's evolved from the plague and Oldman hams it up beyond belief, they can't hold a candle to the digital apes who, not only visually impress and feel natural, but deliver emotion in great heaps and more expression than some actors ever muster. In fact, it's even more intelligent this time around, as we dizzy from leader to leader's viewpoint in a film about prejudices, the choices faced by those in power and a timeless story of power struggles and betrayal. It's a universal tale which has been told many times before - and even echoes some of what happened to the real Caesar from within. There's plenty of action on hand as well - from all out war (with gun-toting apes on horseback turning on the humans) through to birth of new ape life, every gamut is explored and every emotion exploited to maximum effect.
Quietly and patiently, Reeves weaves a tale of such power and impressiveness that you can't help but be swept along with it all. Once again though, it's the digital team at WETA and Andy Serkis who are the stars, giving us creatures that we care for and characters that we side with as the tensions rise and the factions split with horrific consequence; subtle differences in faces and eyes give us more than we need to hang onto and the creation of the world within (from Ape Commandments no less) a place we can identify with. It all feels natural and not one digital moment has been thrown in to simply show off. Serkis, if anything, deserves to get some kind of award for his ongoing impressiveness in expression and emotion for the work done on Caesar. Dawn Of The Planet of the Apes is a sequel which surpasses the intelligence and action stakes of the first; it's an excellent and masterful movie that deserves to be seen