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Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


We’ve had a very solid Summer so far for great films that have expanded old franchises and giving new life to classic characters and series. Captain America, Spider-Man, Godzilla and X-Men have all seen VERY well publicized new features and in most cases, delivered the goods for fans both new and old. Amongst these time-tested old favorites, however, is another chapter in the ongoing reboot of Planet of the Apes; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Dating back to 1968, the Planet of the Apes series of films is as old as the rest of the franchises it shares big-budget adaptations with, and even already has a failed new-school film already under its belt (Tim Burton’s woeful attempt in the early noughties). Thankfully, neither Burton nor Mark Wahlberg are anywhere to be found in this Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis-fronted powerhouse of CGI, well-rounded performances and weighty sociopolitical narrative that just might be the best blockbuster of the Summer.
http://cdn.screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-Caesar-with-shotgun.jpgExplaining the story of Dawn would be a serious injustice as one of the many treats of the two hours is that the story is always keeping you guessing as to what will happening next, without feeling like it’s going completely against convention. Set sometime in the near future, we pick up with the apes Caeser and Koba from Rise of the Planet of the Apes as they’ve built a tribal homeland amongst the over-growth in the aftermath of the simian flu outbreak. Humans and apes exist separately, but understand that neither wants conflict and so an uneasy balance is had. Focusing on the hominid contingent from the off would be a risky maneuver in making the audience care if the writing was any less than stellar, but Mark Bomback’s excellent scripting and Andy Serkis’ stunning lead turn as Caeser humanize the simians very quickly; within minutes you forget you’re watching CGI animals and believe them as much as you do Oldman and Jason Clarke. It only makes it ever so much more tragic then when the uneasy peace is shattered and the action begins because suddenly these well-designed characters are under threat of destruction as the different political wants come to the fore.
Early on, there’s an obvious motif of us against them which is introduced and fortified throughout. However, this narrative is very well played from both angles, human and ape, introducing a duality that allows us, the audience, to empathize with every character and every strain of thinking. There’s a certain kind of clever when a film that is so obviously a major blockbuster subverts the idea of just bland action and tries to give you, the viewer, something to try to think about after you’ve watched the film. Not necessarily a want to see the film again straight away (though that desire is absolutely still present) but a want to really think and consider what the film made you feel and why you feel the way you do. The themes of tribalism and dictatorship are deeply encrusted in the thick forestation of this ensemble but never feel over-stated or under-handed in their delivery, allowing them to easily imbibe the audiences experience and remain food for thought for days. Each character represents a necessary strand that disallows you to hate them like a conventional villain so much as wish that you didn’t understand why they think the way they do.
Not to focus too heavily on the plot, mind, as this film also manages to be a sight to behold on the big screen to boot. Lavish forestry and landscapes are complimented with scores of apes as they swing through the with ease. It’s hard to fathom how many bodies are on-screen at once in certain parts and at no point does it feel anything less than well thought-out and delivered. The human city, however, was my personal favorite as the dystopic wasteland has so much attention to detail it harkens back to a day of sci-fi old. There’s one section in the second half of the film that feels like, with the setting, mood and tension, it could have been lifted directly from last year’s Playstation 3 hit The Last of Us, and if you haven’t played that yet trust me, it’s a massive compliment.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the kind of film you wish all Summer blockbusters were. Though we’ve been spoiled for choice this Summer, there are many that simply just fall short of even achieving entertainment with mindless action. The constant tension maintained throughout, along with the well-paced dialog and excellent character design make this an absolute must see. Much like Empire to A New Hope, this is about as good as a sequel can get. With any luck, it will not be too eclipsed by the more heavily promoted baboons its sharing the box office with.

Rating: 9/10