2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise to many moviegoers. What looked to be a crass relaunch of a property that was long dead turned out to be one of the best films of 2011 and an exciting and inventive way to restart the franchise. The sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not the same film. It’s better.
Dawn picks up ten years after Rise. A plague has laid the human race low and war amongst the humans has done the rest of the job. Meanwhile, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his ape family are thriving in the redwoods outside San Francisco. Both races exist separately until they come into contact once again. A human settlement led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) needs access to a dam in Caesar’s territory so the humans can power their city. They send Malcom (Jason Clarke) to check things out. After some hairy encounters, Malcom gains Caesar’s trust and he begins to see that the apes are just like the humans in what they want for their future. However, elements within both camps cannot forgive the transgressions of the past—the plague was called the Simian Flu, even though it was made in a lab—and will push both societies closer and closer to war, no matter the cost.
The best part about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is that all angles of the conflict are understandable. I’m not going to ruin any plot points, but what mainly drives the conflict between the two species is fear and mistrust and everyone can understand that. The story just unfolds very organically and there is an underlying sense of dread as the audience can feel that a clash between the two sides is inescapable. The story is also very heartfelt and emotional as all Malcom and Caesar care about are their families and that shines through in every scene. Screenwriter Mark Bomback hit this one out of the park. It’s also fascinating to see the meticulous details that go into this film to lay the groundwork for the world of the 1968 original with Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall. The score by Michael Giacchino has great call backs to the score of the original film and it sets the mood perfectly. All credit needs to go to Director Matt Reeves for crafting a tense, exciting film that tops the first prequel in every way.
Motion capture technology grows by leaps and bounds and it has hit new highs with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This film belongs to the actors playing the apes. The human actors are good, but the apes are just spectacular. Of course, the king is Caesar himself, Andy Serkis, who is now the utmost authority on motion capture performance. Serkis is amazing in this film, giving a touching and powerful performance. Kudos are also in order for Toby Kebbell, who plays Koba and Nick Thurston, who plays Blue Eyes, Caesar’s son. My favorite ape, though, is the thoughtful Maurice, played by Karin Konoval, who reprises the role from Rise. The apes come alive on the screen and it looks like Jason Clarke is there acting with real-live apes. Clarke is also really good as Malcom. He basically takes the place of James Franco’s Will from Rise, but he has a lot more to do in this film. Keri Russell is good as the human doctor Ellie and Kodi Smit-McPhee does a really good job as Malcom’s son, Alexander. The human stories take a backseat to the conflict at large, but you still get moments in there that are great.
All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best film of the summer so far. It has a smart script that tells a basic story of survival and fantastic performances from all involved. It’s almost sad in a way that the summer film with the most emotional core is a film featuring digitally-rendered apes, but that’s what you’ve got in this one. It is the movie to see this season and also one of the best of the year.