From the marvelous special effects with motion capture technology to the very realistic portrayal of conflict between two similar species, Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not only held my attention and pulled at my heart strings, but it also left me pleasantly surprised at how well this sequel held up to an equally successful predecessor, which almost no one expected would succeed in the first place.
Ten years after the spread of the virus, which humans called the simian flu, Caesar (Andy Serkis) now leads a large group of apes who are living in the woods of California, not having seen a sign of humans for about two years. However, a small group of humans, including Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Ellie (Keri Russell), and Carver (Kirk Acevedo) travel into those woods unaware that there are apes living there. They are searching for a power source under a dam that they can use to provide electricity to San Francisco, as a small city of people have taken shelter there. When Carver comes across a young ape, though, he panics and shoots him, angering the other apes. When the apes find out that a city of humans exist, they become paranoid that the humans, with their large supply of weapons, will eventually attack. Caesar, however, tries to keep the peace the best he can, while Koba (Toby Kebbell), who has a long-standing grudge against humans after he was caged and experimented on years ago, threatens to ruin that peace and start an all out war.
I wasn’t very hopeful when Hollywood decided to reboot the Planet of the Apes franchise. I was afraid it might have turned out to be another failed 2001 remake. Plus, it had James Franco, one of the biggest weirdos in Hollywood, playing this genius scientist who is supposed to make the apes smarter. So, I was surprised when I ended up loving Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It had great characters and a lot of heart, and yes, even Franco managed to be convincing as a scientist.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is similar in that it is a blockbuster that takes its time in developing the characters and the plot. It’s not all about a bunch of apes on horseback fighting with a bunch of belligerent humans with guns, which you’ll see mostly happening in the trailers. It’s really about the similarities between apes and humans, something that Caesar comes to learn in a tough way. For once, humans aren’t shown to be completely at fault. Yes, there are some dumb and irrational humans, like Carver for example, but there’s also an angry and irrational ape in the form of Koba, which balances the story out. It shows that one species is not superior to the other and each are capable of doing terrible things. Koba, for example, shows that he is really no better than the humans who mistreated him. It’s illogical to think that there can ever be peace between the two, especially when humans are known for not even being able to keep peace among themselves, and Caesar’s realization of this is heartbreaking.
This movie is just about as serious as a movie about talking apes can get. The messages are dark, but realistic. Violence begets violence. Any species will fight if provoked, and peace is fundamentally impossible. But it also shows that one individual can’t speak for an entire species. There is evil on every side, the goal is being able to recognize it when it’s in your own backyard by putting aside your prejudices against those who may seem different than you. Caesar is eventually able to accomplish that, as well as some of the other apes, but it’s a problem I’m sure will linger through the story within this franchise, just as it remains a problem in real life.
I must say I love how Caesar never completely forgot about the man who raised him. Since this movie takes place 10 years after the virus had spread, I figured he wouldn’t even be mentioned. However, there is a touching scene when Caesar watches an old video of Will (James Franco) teaching him sign language when he was just a young ape and you can see how much Caesar misses him. It shows how much the relationship he had in the first film shaped him into the character he is in this one.
Some day, I hope, Andy Serkis will finally get the recognition he deserves with the amazing work he does playing non-human characters with motion capture. I’m not sure how many other people could play an ape so well. He gives him just the right amount of humanistic qualities without being too human. At no point did I even think or remember that this is a human pretending to be an ape. I also have to give credit to Toby Kebbell as Koba, though, for pulling off crazy and scary extremely well.
Jason Clarke held his own as the new leading human in this movie, and the most likable one for that matter, aside from Keri Russell. The only issue I had was that Gary Oldman, who is an extremely talented actor, was underused. He had a very small part that could’ve been played by anyone, which makes me think they threw him in there just to have a bigger name attached to the project. Kind of a waste, if you ask me. Other than that, though, I thought the cast was great, human and ape alike.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best blockbusters I’ve seen all summer and one sequel I’m happy was made. The plot is well-developed, very believable and evokes real emotion, the CGI is some of the most impressive I’ve seen, and despite the serious tone, it still manages to be a fun and immersing tale of the conflicting relationships between two equally intelligent species.