Published Thursday, 17 July 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a proper action adventure, uniquely smart and full of heart. When Ape chieftain, Caesar bellows "GO" at a bunch of gun-toting humans, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. Not since Darth Vader strode into Star Wars have I been as bowled over by such a formidable screen presence.
Set ten years after franchise reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an inevitable war is brewing between man and ape. Earth has been devastated by a Simian Flu which has wiped out most of humanity. "We've been through hell together" declares Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) leader of the last remaining citizens of San Francisco. "We spent four years fighting that virus, and then another four fighting each other!" Now, determined to end the chaos and reclaim the world they lost, Dreyfus sends Malcolm (Jason Clarke) on a dangerous mission in search of power across the Golden Gate Bridge.
But this is ape country, where deep in the woods, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his primate companions have established a thriving village. A peaceful stone age society, where apes communicate with sign language and are bound by the sacred code that 'Ape Must Not Kill Ape'. But Caesar raised by a human father, is confronted once again by divided loyalties which threaten to split his tribe when Malcolm asks for help. "His love for humans makes him blind" snarls rival ape Koba (Toby Kebell).
Andy Serkis has once again taken 'performance capture' to a whole new level, even beyond his spell-binding Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Is there a better or more under-rated actor working in Hollywood today? His Caesar is so captivating, somehow so complete, that he feels more real than the human actors, who pale in his shadow. Serkis also finds a suitably primal sound for the imposing voice of Caesar. "Apes do not want war" he growls. But, just when it seems that the primates and humans have learned to trust each other, a shocking act of betrayal sparks a battle that will determine the dominant species.
Okay I admit, I am easily pleased, put an angry ape on a galloping horse firing a gun and I am thrilled. But Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is much more than the striking image on its poster. It is an highly enjoyable drama, unusually heavyweight for a summer blockbuster which beautifully blends the political and the personal. The film begins and ends with a chilling close-up of Caesar's intense gaze, prepared for peace, ready for war. It will be fascinating to see how the survival struggle between the man and ape is viewed by different cultures around the world. One not to be missed.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Cert 12a) is now general release.
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