Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review

Matt Reeves
Andy Serkis
Jason Clarke
Gary Oldman
Keri Russell
Toby Kebbell
Rated: PG-13

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the sequel to the 2011 reboot film which followed the birth and childhood of the character Ceasar (Serkis), and how he rose to be a revolutionary leader for his simian species. “Dawn” starts off 10 years after the first film ended. Since Caesar and the apes escaped, a virus produced at a lab has spread across the entire world and has wiped out most of the human race. Meanwhile, the apes, led by Caesar, have established their own thriving community where they live in peace.

Tensions rise, though, as a group of humans from a colony in the remains of San Francisco step upon the Ape civilization to find a power source and an accidental death occurs. Just as the situation reaches a near boiling point, though, Caesar is able to communicate with the humans to calm things down and eventually, the humans get to do their work. Old hatreds start to rise up, though, and peace may not be a long term solution.

“Dawn” is such an impressive movie because it is able to elevate a sci-fi/post apocalyptic movie into a political thriller and an examination of themes like peace, war, hatred and loyalty. These aspects give so much depth to a story which is filled with tragedy and emotion.

Right from the get go, the film is intense and suspenseful while at the same time being very heartfelt which makes for a very engaging experience. The first couple of scenes alone are impressive, as the audience is shown how the apes hunt, learn and interact with each other using sign language. The audience gets fully immersed in who these ape characters are, where they stand morally and what their priorities are.

As the movie goes along, the film becomes more and more exciting, by making meaningful references to the past film, having a great deal of family drama, and some very memorable and at the same time heartbreaking action sequences.

The best part of the movie is without a doubt Caesar. Like the first movie, Caesar, played wonderfully by Andy Serkis, is not just a leader, but a friend, husband and father. These aren’t just titles, either. The audience is shown how Caesar interacts with his children, wife, and friends like Rocket and Maurice (an ape and orangutan from the first film). These scenes are honest and feel very real due to how well Caesar’s character is brought to life by Serkis.

It’s such a good performance that the argument can be made to nominate Serkis for an Oscar because of his acting through motion capture technology. Serkis translates Caesar’s anger, grief, sadness and happiness all very well to make one of the most compelling characters in the last few years.

The great performances for these apes didn’t stop at Serkis, though. All of the ape characters feel like real beings and the audience can clearly see when one or more of the creatures is fearful or angry. On top of that, the use of sign language mixed with their developing ability to speak is executed to perfection which leads to great scenes of dialogue with very little words being spoken.

The other good ape performance came by Toby Kebbell, who played Koba. An adviser to Caesar who had been experimented on by humans, Koba holds onto old grudges and doesn’t trust the humans at all. The character arc for Koba in this film is very well done and his motivations, despite leading him down the complete wrong path, are understandable.

The same can be said for leader of the human colony Dreyfus (Oldman),another character who doesn’t exactly trust the apes or see that they have a culture, but has motivations to keep the human colony safe. Both characters, Koba and Dreyfus, are flawed and they do the wrong thing at certain points, however, they are not stereotypical antagonists, like the ones in “Avatar,” for example.

The other main human character, Malcolm, is well played by Jason Clarke, who gives a really solid performance. The trust and friendship he builds with Caesar is honest and believable. Clarke’s character is very much like James Franco’s from the first flick, a strongly written character backed up by a well done performance, but still in the supporting role category compared to Caesar.

If there is any complaint, it’s that some of the human characters (Malcolm’s wife and son, for example) were a bit one dimensional here and there, but this can easily be overlooked since most of the characters to really care about are the apes.

One summer blockbuster staple that is alive and present in “Dawn” is the special effects. These apes don’t look like a CGI production, they look real. The motion capture technology is very well used to create every emotion these apes display and all the various details that a real animal would have. The action scenes towards the end of the film are also very well choreographed making for a thrilling climax.

The special effects along with the way the film was shot really puts the audience in the middle of this world’s ruined San Francisco. The camera work is also well done during the battle sequences, for example, there is a great scene involving a tank.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is more than everything you want in a summer film. Not only is it a well made action film, it is captivating in its themes and becomes a heartbreaking tragedy. This one deserves a look during award season. 5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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