Dawn of the Planet of the Apes leaves off many years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Most people have been killed off after a deadly virus and the only people still alive are those who were immune. The civilization of the apes on the other hand has taken off and they have been building a new era. Caesar (the main ape from the first movie) is now the leader of the civilization of the apes and must do what best for everyone. After the two groups meet up, crueler members of the apes try to conquer the people and a battle occurs.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an entertaining movie as I last remember it. I thought the acting was impressive especially from John Lithgow and I was on board with Andy Serkis receiving an academy award nomination for his CGI work as Caesar. The animal arc was definitely more interesting than the human arc but I still thought it was a fun blockbuster that had more brains than the average action movie.
With the first movie, it had this huge sense of revolution. This isn’t something against it but the film had very little thought for the future of the apes and mainly aimed at giving you the start of something different in our world. By the end of the first movie, the people are about to unleash the virus that will kill them all and the apes are escaping into the forest. Characters are too worried about the present for them to consider any of the problems they could have in creating the politics and rules of their new world.
What I respect about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and what for me brings the film above average is how effectively the apes are presented as the villain of this story. The apes in this movie have gotten over the rush of the first movie and now Caesar has to make decisions that will affect the lives of his citizens. Throughout the movie, you get to see the laws he created fall apart and we watch as the civilization he has created becomes open to corruption and savageness (everything Caesar rebelled against in the first place). Many could see this film as your average Romeo and Juliet story about two opposite learning to get along but this movie goes far beyond that mostly because of what the movie does after the 2nd half. The apes are the clear ones who are evil and violent in this movie; they come dangerously close to killing all of the humans by the end. Caesar must come to terms with his flawed system which he created and it is up to him to accept the consequences for its failure.
The themes of the movie are ultimately rather bleak and there is no happy ending where everyone gets along. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t feature simple answers for evil like other blockbusters where villains create destruction for the sake of needing an antagonist. Evil and corruption is something that exists in all species and it is rarely in black and white. All terrible acts are brought out of good intentions. In this case, the antagonist Koba does the sadistic things that he does because of torture he received from lab experimentation. The apes of the huge army Koba forms to imprison the humans only do what they do out of protection for their family and for themselves. In this way, there are aspects of this that have led to acts of horror throughout all of human history. Mob mentality can kick in for anyone as is seen by the final acts here. The core theme for the movie is that every system is imperfect and can make way for terrible events. Dawn offers audiences the rare chance this summer to understand the motives of the villains all while being horrified by their grotesque actions at the same time.
The buzz of the visual effects from back when they were new and groundbreaking has died off and there seems to be less of a campaign to see Andy Serkis get a nomination for playing Caesar this time around. Nonetheless, the visual effects are still quite ambitious and Andy Serkis continues to give a very emotional performance even if it isn’t as breathtaking and new as when he was playing Caesar in Rise. If there is one actor who deserves credits in this area it is Toby Kebbell who played the villain Koba. The great cgi and the intensity that he used to bring to life the character made for easily one of the most memorable and unnerving villains so far this year. From the facial expressions alone, you got this portrayal of a completely ugly sadist, yet one who you can understand where they come from at the same time. This has little to do with the actor but the shot of Koba with the gun pointed towards the camera makes for an unforgettable image of hate and violence that sums up the storyline. The apocalyptic world itself seems interesting and it’s realistic enough for the setting the movie is trying to create. The great visual effects are made even better from excellent cgi performances.
There is one large error in the film and that is the representation of the people. In the previous movie, it felt like they at least tried to make the human characters interesting even if they were second to the apes. In this movie, they don’t make any effort to make the humans at all compelling. They play to the main point of the story but none of the people featured could carry the film on their own. Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee are all capable actors who I’ve seen give great performances but in this movie there stranded because of how bland and two dimensional there characters are. They also tried to throw in a human antagonist with Gary Oldman as the bitter leader of the human community but that storyline felt thrown in and it had no place in the overall concept despite Oldman being really solid throughout. I understand that the apes are the most important area but I think the theme of the movie would’ve been even more successful if they added more depth to humans in this movie and not just made them plot devices.
The humans are really bad in this movie but if you can get beyond that, the areas with the apes makes for a compelling sit. I was impressed with how successfully bleak and gritty this movie was and it was nice to see a summer blockbuster that was focused on heavy ideas rather than brainless action and forced comedic relief. The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes genuinely surprised me in what it chose to tackle and how it presented the troubles a new system can face.
Release Date: 4/4/2014
Directed by: Matt Reeves