Synopsis: 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.
Release Date: July 11, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Action, Fantasy
It’s said that, in comparison to the original Planet of the Apes series of films, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a rehash of 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. If this is true, then the new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should be based on the next film in the series, 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The claim is fair; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not a straight remake of Battle, but the concepts and premises are similar.
Picking up about ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sees the human race all but wiped out due to the outbreak of Simian Flu while the apes, under the direction of their liberator, Caesar (motion capture guru Andy Serkis, best known as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings), have been living quietly and self-sufficiently in the woods outside of San Francisco. A small band of humans, led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), still exists in the city, and when their fuel starts to run low, they venture into the apes’ territory to make repairs to a dam that will provide them with electrical power.
The apes see it as an invasion, but a human named Malcolm (Jason Clarke from Lawless) is able to diffuse the situation and convince Caesar to let his team work on the dam. Not trusting the humans, an ape named Koba (Toby Kebbell from Wrath of the Titans) believes that the apes should fight the humans, while Caesar is more understanding of humankind. Neither the apes nor the humans want a war, but each side’s skepticism about the other’s motives makes for a very uneasy truce. Add in the power struggle between Caesar and Koba, and the situation becomes volatile.
The big change between Rise of the Planet of the Apes (“Rise“) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (“Dawn“) comes in the form of a new director – Dawn was helmed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves instead of Rupert Wyatt. Despite the switch in leadership, the vision has remained constant; Dawn still has the continuity to make it look like it belongs to the same franchise as Rise. The screenplay for Dawn was written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, the same husband and wife team that wrote Rise, so it feels like a logical continuation of the saga.
Thanks to script rewrites from veteran action film writer Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard, The Wolverine), the focus of the film is more on action than it was in Rise, and it’s great that way. There’s nothing quite like seeing a bunch of apes riding horses towards a fortified city full of people with machine guns blazing raining bullets down upon them. That’s what Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is all about. If Rise set up the world, Dawn defines it; the progression is similar to that of Alien to Aliens.
There is plenty of action in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and it all culminates with one of the greatest final showdowns to ever grace a movie screen, but there’s much more to the film than just apes and people fighting. There is a human element, both among the people and the apes, that ties the film together. Both sides just want to live, but the distrust that each has of the other is crippling.
Having known good humans, Caesar wants to trust them but is conflicted over risking everything that the apes have built since the collapse of humanity. On the human side, Malcolm has found a kindred spirit in Caesar and wants to coexist, but Dreyfus fights him in the same way that Koba fights Caesar. It all just goes to show that maybe apes and humans aren’t that different from each other after all.
The big draw of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the apes. They were done by the team at Weta Digital (The Lord of the Rings movies) through the magic of motion capture CGI, and they look amazing. Every little detail of the apes – the wet hair, the wrinkles in the skin, the scarring from battle wounds – is rendered in exact detail. The motion capture artists were coached in ape movement by Terry Notary, who has done animal movement coaching for films like The Adventures of Tintin and Avatar (Notary also plays the part of the ape Rocket in the film).
Andy Serkis, who has become the go-to guy for Hollywood mo-cap performances, reprises his role as Caesar, and he proves why he is in such demand – his movements are ape-like enough for Caesar to still be considered a simian, but there’s a human quality to them that suggests a deeper intelligence and understanding. Toby Kebbell is great as Koba as well; in one scene, he perfectly imitates a “normal” ape in order to fool some humans into trusting him, and the situation is both hilarious and unsettling. The work of the actors and effects crew come together into some of the coolest CG characterizations ever to see the screen.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is presented in 3D, and the effect is utilized well. The 3D is used sparingly, but tastefully – it’s noticeable, but not gimmicky. It is mostly added in to emphasize texture and depth of field, with the intent being to transport the viewer to the world of the film instead of thrusting the world of the film into the viewer’s face. It’s subtle, but apparent, adding to the film without forcing the movie to depend on it.
And now for the negative. With all of the painstaking attention to detail that was paid to the appearance and movement of the apes, some of the other effects seem to suffer. You’d think that part of the animation rendering time could have been spent finding a more realistic machine gun fire effect. By no means does the cheap-looking gunfire ruin the film, but it just makes the viewer wonder, with so much work put into the visual effects, why did the artists cut corners on something like that?
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Matt Reeves
- Screenwriter(s): Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback
- Cast: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfus) Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Judy Greer (Cornelia)
- Editor(s): William Hoy
- Cinematographer: Michael Seresin
- Music Score: Michael Giacchino
- Country Of Origin: USA