By: Eli Ralston
As someone who hasn’t really been a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise, I wasn’t too excited when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released and I honestly didn’t even see it in theaters. But after some of the amazing trailers for the newest installment, I decided to give the franchise a chance. I was pretty impressed with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but the film wasn’t without its flaws, especially concerning the human story. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes the story that was started in the first film and creates an even more compelling story that reminded me why I love sci-fi films so much. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is just, simply put, a great film.
The story takes place ten years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, as shown in the end credits, most of humanity has been wiped out by the “Simian Flu” that was a side effect to the serum that gave these apes such intelligence. The original subject, Caesar (Andy Serkis), is leading the flourishing group of apes in the forests just north of San Fransisco where they escaped to in the previous film. He has built a home and a family in this tribe, who now use different forms of communication from signing to limited speech. It is shown at the beginning of the film that the apes have got things going pretty well where they have hunters and gatherers, kids going to school, and a thriving system.
All of that gets threatened when a group of humans arrive to check out an old dam that could possibly restore power to San Fransisco. The group is lead by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) who is immediately fascinated with Ceasar and the fact that he can talk. This encounter creates tension between the two groups and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) gives Malcolm three days to try and convince Caesar to let them use the dam so they can all live in peace. The main problem is that Koba (Toby Kebbell) who has been tested on by humans for years, does not trust humans one bit. And puts a plot into motion to try and start a war.
What really makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes so compelling of a story is seeing how much older and wiser Caesar has become and watching him try to mend the strained relationship between apes and humans. Andy Serkis does another masterful job in the motion capture suit, it really amazes me how this man has not been nominated for an acting Oscar yet because he really deserves it. He outdoes his performance from Rise by really making you feel like this ape has the weight of the world on his shoulders. You can see it in the way he is trying to lead the apes while taking care of his family in every single movement, sigh, flicker of the eyes and even the way he walks. I could really feel what this character was going through just through his movements.
But I also have to give just as much credit to newcomer Toby Kebbell who does just as masterful of a job portraying Koba, an ape with a troubled past who does not trust humans one bit. The dynamic between Koba and Caesar is very interesting as Koba basically does whatever he wants. Koba is reallly one of the most memorable characters in the series that was built upon in the first film. Another reason I really enjoyed the film was because it really felt like a continuation of the story that was started instead of just some useless sequel. Everything that had been boiling up felt like it was actually started in the previous film.
With such an amazing storyline from the apes portion of the film, the human element doesn’t quite compare. While it is still really interesting to watch the dynamic between Malcolm and Dreyfus as they struggle to figure out whether to deal with the apes in a peaceful or violent way. It really is when the humans, mainly Malcom, interact with the apes when the human story actually becomes more interesting. The dynamic between Malcolm and Caesar is another strong aspect to the story. They have a lot in common as they are both trying to protect their families and their people. An uneasy truce is made between the two that eventually blossoms into complete trust that is a very gradual and natural transition.
Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke give respectable performances throughout the film, but it is really the apes who shine in Dawn. Andy Serkis has again proved that you can be an amazing actor while wearing a motion capture suit. All of the ape actors are just plain amazing. It’s amazing that with barley any dialogue and communicating mainly through sign language, all of these actors are able to give stellar performances that really suck you in. When compared to the ape actors, the human element just isn’t up to par.
I can’t talk about this film without mentioning the drop dead gorgeous visual effects that Weta magic have put on the screen. The apes in the film look real, this isn’t them looking almost real I mean they look drop dead real. Like they somehow got actual apes to act in front of the camera instead of humans. Its truly a marvel to see the apes charging into battle, swinging through trees and even just fish on the river bank. I really think this is going to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects next year. It is really unparalleled how much detail has gone into the creation of these apes.
I also appreciate the fact that director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), doesn’t take go down the path that many Apes films before it has, by rehashing some of the same old like “Take your damn paws off me you damn dirty ape.” comes to mind. There really aren’t any gimmicks here, there are only very subtle hints to original films like Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score.
While the end of the film wasn’t the strongest aspect and it really didn’t feel conclusive enough, it really was an ending that was in the true Planet of the Apes fashion. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will also make you examine and contemplate some issues that are facing the real world today. Not only are there the obvious notions of family, responsibility, leadership, and friendship, but there is also so much more. It makes you look into so many different aspects of human life, like how we treat animals, isolationism, judging others, and even the death penalty are all examined in the film.
All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a fantastic example of Hollywood’s best genre movies. It’s exciting, emotional, visually breathtaking, and keeps an audience on the edge of their seats. It is a great example of a classic Hollywood blockbuster, but is more than that. Its the kind of move that Hollywood needs to looks more towards making instead of useless sequels that are just explosions and poor plots; I’m looking at you, Transformers. This is a film that challenges what we think and believe and can move us in a non-preachy and entertaining way. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not only a film worth seeing, but you would really be doing yourself a favor if you did.