Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014.
Diirected by Matt Reeves.
Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Enrique Murciano, Kirk Acevedo and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.
There is always a sense of apprehension and cautious pessimism whenever directors and lead actors get shuffled around in the sequel to a commercially and critically acclaimed successful film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was fighting an uphill battle on both of those accounts, on top of having some worrisome spots in the trailers featuring gun toting apes on horseback. Would this be a cinematic blockbuster with style and substance – similar to its predecessor Rise of the Planet of the Apes – or would the sequel embrace full-on spectacle?
Thankfully, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and the studios behind the project understood exactly what made the first film such a surprise gem; emotion and the grace to treat the audience to not just a fun time at the movies, but something much deeper below the surface.
Putting that into perspective, when Dawn of the Planet of the Apes reaches its boiling point between the humans and intellectually mutated titular apes, the battle scenes of the war actually fill the viewer with sadness, and the sensation that the turmoil could have been avoided, rather than use the war as a vehicle to showcase entertaining and impressive looking action sequences. That’s not to say the action isn’t fun, but like its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to capture a humanistic quality that successfully engages the audience into the story.
Before all of the extended action sequences and Hollywood blockbuster theatrics, the film manages to spend around 90 minutes building its characters – both humans and apes – and the growing tensions between the two factions. Perhaps what is most fascinating is how the film actively tries to subvert cornering its major characters into clichés. Gary Oldman for example plays a leader to the remaining ALZ-113 virus immune survivors, but he isn’t a stereotypical villain that is distrusting of the apes for over-exaggerated reasons. It’s actually a shame he wasn’t given more screen time, because what he does with this time given to flesh out his back-story and motives is phenomenal.
It doesn’t end with just Gary Oldman either, as again pretty much every character pivotal to the eruption of the inevitable war has justifiable reasons for the way they think and their actions. After having witnessed all of the torture Koba had suffered through at the hands of humans in the preceding film, it’s understandable why he may feel betrayed at times in response to Caesar allowing the humans into their homely woods so that they can start up a hydroelectric dam and give the city of San Francisco power. It’s admittedly somewhat of a cliché plot device, but the excellent execution is the difference maker.
When something is given a greater context, it’s simply just easier to look past the fact that part of the plot you are seeing is textbook Hollywood 101. In the case of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it’s hard not to let your mind wander off into drawing parallels between the escalation of the turmoil between humans and apes, to that of real-life political struggles going on in the world today. Ultimately, you just want to see factions find common ground and band together to collectively make the world a better place, not witness distrust and miscommunication that leads to a never-ending series of violence. And when war unfortunately breaks out, your faith in the human race – or in this case both humans and apes – dwindles a bit. All you’re left with is chaos that could have been avoided if we were more willing to trust each other.
That’s what makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stand out as a provocatively entertaining summer blockbuster, but far from the only reason the film is such a masterpiece. Simply put, this movie has the most stunning CGI ever put forth into a film; if it doesn’t win a few Oscars for special effects something is wrong with the Academy. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the only movie in existence where the CGI can actually take the viewer out of the experience, not because the special effects are clearly animated, but because it’s astonishingly unbelievable that you know what you’re seeing isn’t real, yet it may as well be. The apes are seriously that detailed in both their appearance and animation. Furthermore, they are also highly distinguished from one another, making it gloriously simple to tell the difference between say, Caesar and Koba.
The motion capture is truly outstanding, as well as all of the performances from revered motion capture actors such as Andy Serkis. If there were ever a performance to come along that could present a case for a motion captured performance to be eligible for an Oscar, it’s Andy Serkis as Caesar. He will make you feel every struggle, emotion, and challenging decision that must be made.
If you couldn’t tell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is more than your average summer blockbuster, it’s a phenomenal piece of socially relevant story-telling that just happens to look gorgeous and be endlessly entertaining. Hail Caesar!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★