Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Set ten years after 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a global pandemic has all but wiped out humanity, and a San Francisco colony, led by Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, must enter simian chief Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) woodland utopia to repair a dam to provide power to their number. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) strikes a precarious alliance to complete the work, but neither side is fully committed: Caesar’s right hand Koba (Toby Kebbell) and bitter hothead Carver (Kirk Acevedo) do their best to derail the peace.
Quite aside from just how visually impressive and taut it all is, much has been made of the allusions to Shakespeare in Matt Reeves’ excellent follow-up, and with tortured leaders, political chicanery and familial betrayal such comparisons are apt. But for great stretches the film plays out as a revisionist Western, hitting similar beats to Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves as Caesar finds his home under threat and bonds with the curious and compassionate Malcolm. The thematic ambition is complimented by nuance in characterisation; each individual’s (often terrible) actions are at worst understandable, and this ambiguity means our sympathies remain conflicted to the last. There are no monsters here, and the result is one of the smartest, most thrilling blockbusters in years.