Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Posted: July 15, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

dawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_pWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the surprise of summer, 2011. The trailers may have had some intriguing special effects, but the film just looked like another in the long line of cash-grab remakes, reboots, prequels, and sequels. The fact that the Planet of the Apes franchise had been dead for a number of years, with the most recent film being Tim Burton’s heavily maligned remake in 2001, certainly didn’t help either. Yet low and behold, the film ended up being really good thanks to, in large part, its focus on actual characters and storytelling. While Rise may have benefited from lowered expectations, that certainly isn’t the case with its sequel; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The film is coming out mid-July, at the peak of blockbuster season, and with massive hype following the success of its predecessor.

The film takes place ten years after the events of Rise. In that time, the man-made virus created by the scientists from Gen-Sys has shaken the world. Many humans have been killed by the virus, and the survivors have been caught in conflict with each other over supplies. Meanwhile, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the other mentally enhanced apes have been living in the Muir Woods, next to what is left of San Francisco. The apes have built their own society and are living in relative harmony. However, unbeknownst to them, a small human population has established residence in the city. Needing a power source, the humans seek out a nearby dam, which happens to be in ape territory. The two forces clash, but one human, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), believes that perhaps peace is possible between the two groups.

One of the strongest aspects of this series has been Caesar himself and his character continues to move in interesting directions here. In this film, Caesar is a wise and powerful leader, but a troubled one. He has built a strong society for his species and is building towards a bright future. But this future is threatened by the humans and how Caesar chooses to deal with them. Humanity has the potential to wipe out all Caesar has worked for, but if Caesar seeks out conflict things could be far worse. Further complicating his perspective is Caesar’s family, both the humans who raised him in Rise, and his current family, which includes a mate (Judy Greer) and two sons, one an infant. It’s pretty amazing to think we’ve seen this character grow from a baby, to a curious child, to a revolutionary, to a heavily burdened leader. Andy Serkis is great in the role and continues to be the leading pioneer in motion capture acting.

The other apes are given expanded characters as well. Maurice the Orangutan (Karin Konoval) returns as Caesar’s friend and ally, and I also liked Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), Caesar’s son. The stand out however is clearly Koba (Toby Kebbell). Unlike Caesar, who has seen the kindness humanity is capable of, Koba spent most of his life being tested on by humans and inherently does not trust them. Additionally, a lot of the human’s acitivity throughout the film confirms his beliefs. As such, his animosity towards humans is founded, which makes him more interesting. Kebbell owns the role, commanding a lot of screen presence, and he makes a nice counter point to Serkis’ Caesar. The human characters are a lot less interesting, but the focus is clearly more on the apes. Besides, Jason Clarke performs admirably in a relatively simple character, and I really liked Gary Oldman as the leader of the human settlement in San Francisco. It would have been easy to turn his character into a one-dimensional and hateful villain (think Stephen Lang in Avatar), but Oldman makes him very sympathetic and relatable.

The actual story here focuses on the building of the ape society, and the decay of the human society. There’s also some very enjoyable interactions between the two. Some have been critical of the story for being slightly derivative, particularly of Avatar with it’s protagonist from one group living with another while the threat of conflict looms. While these criticisms are valid, I don’t find they actually detract from the film. First and foremost because all of the major characters here have depth and their motivations are interesting. But I also feel that the derivative story actually informs the tragic nature of the film in this series. It, in combination with the militaristic threat and the nature of this series, gives the film a sense of inevitably, as if no matter what happens, war is unavoidable. You can see that both sides should learn from each other and from the mistakes of the past, and yet the inherent nature of both species is pushing that aside. These are fairly general concepts and can be applied to a number of real world situations. The logical solution of peace and mutual learning so often seems impossible.

Dawn is directed by Matt Reeves, and he steps into the position well. The film feels stylistically aligned with the first film, but where Reeves excels is in the execution. The production design is great and the cinematography is very professional. Reeves also shows tremendous skill at crafting great action scenes with CGI creatures, a skill he surely honed with Cloverfield. The highlight is a shootout mid-way through which not only is a game changer for the film, but it is a very well-executed and exciting action set-piece with some great visuals. The film also opens on a pretty cool mass hunt and the finale is very emotionally involving. The special effects are also fantastic. The best thing I can say about the CGI apes is that, at a certain point, you stop thinking about them as effects. I wasn’t watching CGI, I was watching Caesar, Koba, and all of the other characters.

I wish I could say Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a perfect film, but it isn’t. While most of the characters have depth, the film does occasionally reduce itself to stereotypes. There are a pair of rednecks testing weapons that are particularly grating. Also, much as I enjoy the finale, it does feel a little more overblown than it really should. Still, this is a great film, one with engaging characters, themes, and is on the whole a very gripping work. Not only does it improve on it’s predecessor, but it paves an interesting future for the series and I for one can’t wait to see where things are going.

A

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. It works because not only is it all about the heart and humanity of this story, but also about bringing excitement to it as well. Exactly how a summer blockbuster should be.

  2. brikhaus says:

    I’m really surprised to see this is a good movie. The trailer, especially the CGI apes, looked atrocious. I literally laughed during the trailer when seeing another film. But, hey, maybe I’ll have to check this one out, after all. Thanks for the good review.

  3. ianthecool says:

    Its funny, I never once thought of Avatar while watching it, but you’re right.

  4. Had to bookmark the reviews again. Only just saw the film.

    Great review. The film is an excellent visual and conceptual improvement of the first and that’s impressive in its own right. And Andy Serkis retains his Title as the master of motion capture.

    “Apes. Together. Strong.”

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