In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, most of humanity has been wiped out by a vicious plague to which only 1 in 500 are immune. Although small groups of humans still survive, their shortage of numbers and resources has severely damaged civilisation as we know it. However, the apes have flourished. Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) they have developed their own culture, and most of them can now communicate in basic English.
The dwindling fuel supply causes a small group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) to head into ape territory in an attempt to restore power to San Francisco’s surviving inhabitants. As expected, peace between the two races is fragile and short-lived, and before long war breaks out, putting both human and simian lives in danger once again.
One of the strongest points of the film is that there are no clear heroes or villains. There are both good and bad human and ape characters, which makes it harder to decide whose side to take. As the film progresses the characters are pushed into ever more desperate circumstances. They begin fighting amongst each other, allowing us to see both the differences and, increasingly, the similarities between the two races. Malcolm faces opposition from resistance leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), whereas Caesar is occupied with power struggles with rival Koba (Toby Kebbell), alongside the main war between humans and apes. As a whole, the ape characters are stronger than their human counterparts, some of whom are somewhat limited characters who fade when compared with the multi-faceted characters of the apes.
The special and visual effects bring a higher quality to the film, aided by the intricately detailed sets. The opening sequence detailing the decline of humanity is an especially good use of the effects, in addition to concisely providing a recap of past events and simultaneously setting up the main premise. A post-apocalyptic atmosphere peppers the landscape with ruins of familiar landmarks and throwbacks to the previous film. This sets the tone for the design of the film, with a quality that clearly shows the patience of the filmmaking. Similarly, the incredible use of motion capture technology is essential, adding to the characters rather than being overused.
The film shows ideas which allow it to engage with intelligence on controversial topics including everything from leadership to law. There is also a clear social message throughout, regarding gun control. The film highlights the difference between the humans and apes by repeating and upholding the apes’ key principle – “ape shall not kill ape.” Despite their differences, the apes are shown as a family, looking out for each other. And then there’s the humans. Humanity’s love affair with guns is highlighted throughout the film, where on multiple occasions the peace is left hanging in the balance, dependent on the twitch of a trigger finger.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a deeper emotional intelligence to match its spectacular special effects, making it one of the year’s must-see films.