When Rise of the Planet of the Apes opened three years ago, I was in the small minority of those that walked out thinking that it was a long, drawn-out and boring adventure with an already-paved anti-climactic ending. So, if I give a very positive review to the sequel, that really means something.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes kicks off with a great and creative little intro that gets us back up to speed and explains exactly what has happened over the ten years since the events at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As far as intros go, it’s one of the best. We learn that the human-affecting disease spread globally like a wildfire and that humankind has nearly gone the route of the dinosaurs – extinct. After the title card, we catch up to our main character – no, not James Franco. It’s presumed that he’s long-dead along with the other 99 percent of humans. The lead character is Caesar, Franco’s pet ape from the Rise.
Caesar and his large family of liberated primates still reside in the wooded mountains above desolate San Francisco. Just when they’ve come to believe that humans have become extinct, they run into a small group of survivors in the woods. Initially startled by the apes, one of the humans shoots an ape, but doesn’t kill it. Caesar’s people want to kill them, but don’t at Caesar’s command. It’s obvious that Caesar still has a soft spot for his evolved kin.
Nearing the end of their supplies, this human group’s mission is restore the energy to their populated refuge in San Francisco, which is headed by Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight trilogy). As expected, the humans need the apes’ help, but the apes don’t immediately trust them. As the two work together, that changes – but, at the same time, the humans don’t fully trust the apes either. There’s an underlying tension between the two species based solely in their paranoia. What will come of that tension is the big unknown question.
Special effects in films are only getting better. If you thought that the WETA Digital-created apes in Rise were good, they’re even better in Dawn. You will never be able to distinguish between CG apes, costume apes and real apes (that is, if real apes were actually used in the making of the film). Because of the perfection in the visuals, it’s easy to connect with an ape as a leading character. (While I praise WETA, credit is also due to the motion capture actor who brings Caesar to life and voices him – Andy Serkis.)
My only big complaint with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is it’s lacking focus in terms of central characters. As the story bounces back and forth between Caesar’s group and this human group – which is led by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and features Keri Russell (Felicity) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) – you lose track of who we’re supposed to be supporting, connecting to and empathizing with. It wasn’t until the movie’s end that I said, “Ah, now I know who’s story this is.”
If you enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the slightest, I recommend checking out Dawn. Helmed by fantastic director Matt Reeves (Felicity, Cloverfield, Let Me In), it’s a layered film made with true quality.
(Photo credit: 20th Century Fox)