Crouchender Andy Serkis is always magnificent, whether playing apes (King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) or strange Tolkeinian creatures (Gollum) or real people like Ian Dury (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll), and he is no less magnificent as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
This is a blockbuster in all its senses: the performance capture technology that bring the mannerisms of the apes eerily to life, the CGI special effects that create spectacular battle scenes and the breath-taking collapse of the massive fortress tower that houses the humans, the noise and dramatic score that accompanies the destruction of battle, and the captivating sets of the urban jungle of a derelict San Francisco and the forest settlement of the apes. And just as striking is the image of apes riding horseback, reviving some of the shock value of first meeting them in the 1968 original with Charlton Heston.
Ten years have passed since we last met Caesar. The human population has been devastated by a simian flu virus and a group of survivors led by resistance leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are living among the urban remains of San Francisco. The apes meanwhile, have a settled community in the secluded forests in California. They can now communicate in basic English, contemplate war and peace, and seem to have adopted American family values, particularly in relation to the gender division of labour, although not the human dependence on sources of energy or guns. After contact is made with the humans, Caesar is betrayed by Koba (Toby Kebell) which incidentally was one of Stalin’s nicknames, though wielding two machine guns and a manic expression he looks more like a crazed Rambo.
The apes are the stars of this film, and Serkis is the star of the apes, giving a magnificent and yes, affecting performance as an intelligent and wise Caesar. The film may be addressing more profound issues, about whether guns can ever be a deterrent rather than a cause of violence, and war and diplomacy, but in the end Matt Reeves’ film is about fantastic entertainment.