Raising the bar for summer franchises, Matt Reeves turns a fantasy into a tangible metaphor for the mayhem that hubris can unleash. The dawn is dark! Set 10 years after the last outing of Apes in theatres, Reeves and his team of writers introduce us to a world where humanity is cornered to San Francisco and chimpanzees have evolved into potential rulers under Caesar, courtesy a Simian flu. This Caesar has his own city state where the simians interact in sign language and the young chimps are taught by the sagely orangutun Maurice.

Those who have seen “The Rise” would know that Caesar had seen the good side of us. However, his deputy Kobe, who spent years in a lab, carries scars that refuse to fade away. So when a desperate group of humans led by the genial Malcom (Jason Clarke) and his wife (Keri Russell) enter the Simian space to reassemble a source of power, Koba revolts while Caesar wants to give peace a chance. Like Koba, Malcom’s leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) carries deep seated distrust towards the apes.

It creates a balance. Reeves doesn’t expect us to take sides. Without making a show of it he revaluates words like home and family. Does it include only members of your tribe and community or there is a bigger definition of it that needs to be protected? Should we judge the members of other communities on individual basis or should we make sweeping statements? These are issues that need to be tackled at a time when the ‘other’ in different parts of the world has increasing access to power. Also, does this ‘other’ run the danger of behaving like us when it gets the power? Caesar admits it in a crucial sequence when Koba runs amok.

The sight of Koba riding a horse with a machine gun in hand somehow doesn’t look far-fetched. To make you feel for the futility of war in a sci-fi tent pole is a rare achievement and Reeves manages to do it consistently with a well-knitted screenplay interspersed with the interplay of loyalty and betrayal. Michael Seresin’s cinematography creates foreboding shadows in the verdant ambience and the background music provides depth to the worrying signs. The technical detailing, the special effects and the action set pieces all become part of the intricate storytelling. Nothing hangs loose from the trees!

Andy Serkis does a compelling job as Caesar. You keep wondering where his ingenuity ends and where the special effects lend the Simian touch. Toby Kebbell proves a strong counterpoint as Koba and Jason Clarke fits into the part of the friend in need.

Towards the end, the plot does start plodding as Reeves overplays his intentions to not let it reduce to monkey business but by then the emotional investment is secured.

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Genre: Scientific Fiction

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer

Bottomline

A big studio franchise that shuns cosmetic thrills for substance.