Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the much anticipated sequel to 2011’s summer hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and in it we are moved ten years ahead of the events on The Golden Gate Bridge and a deadly virus being spread across the world. The genetically evolved apes have built a home base in the Redwood Forest and a small group of human survivors are stationed deep inside San Francisco, however they are quickly running out of resources. When they realize that their last chance at electricity is at a dam near the ape village, the two species reach the brink of war with the returning star from the first film, Caesar, calling the shots.
Dawn is a much quieter, darker film than the first installment and keeps the audience engaged by never giving us a true side to root for. We are struggling throughout the film, to figure out who the bad guys are. Are the humans bad because they won’t leave the apes alone, or are we suppose to root for the human race to win and live on? The film won’t give you a clear answer. In fact, Caesar, played magnificently by Andy Serkis, won’t let you want to see the apes killed off. The film is written with political, environmental, and war themes from beginning to end with a little inspiration from Shakespeare thrown in. An ambitious script indeed for such a high CGI, high budget movie that is hoping to draw a big audience.
Director Matt Reeves, best known for Cloverfield and Let Me In, does a good job of keeping the film grounded and gritty. It never has a slick or shiny feel despite the hundreds of digital apes seen on screen and only in the final act does he revert to a big special effects fight scene with explosions and total chaos. For the most part, the film is driven by dialogue, or sign language in the apes’ case. While some may yearn for more gun fights and battles, this film is more of a set up for what is still to come. It is a nice piece in the puzzle. I don’t think that too much happens, overall in the film, however so much happens in the development of the characters.
Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke are the main human stars in the film and both deliver their A game. Oldman isn’t given much to do, but he does his best with what he has, however Clarke is tremendous as the leader of the group who has to go to the woods to make contact with the apes in hopes of getting to the dam. His interactions with everyone in the film is so natural and believable, he is the human version of Caesar. He makes us not want to root against the humans and Reeves gives both the humans and apes equal screen time so we are kept off balance as to who is going to win this war.
By the end of the film, there will certainly be a sense of let down as it doesn’t end on a high note or a feeling of achievement. Rather, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is filling in a gap to a larger picture that hasn’t been told yet. I think it is too early to tell if this film achieved what it set out to do on the bigger scale, however as its own movie, it is intelligent, daring and is one of the best films of the year on a technical level. Except for a few slow moments, mostly quiet dialogue-driven scenes, and an over produced final battle, this is a solid installment to the franchise.