After “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, people had very mixed opinions. Some felt that it was a nice, fresh take on a classic franchise, others thought it was dull and had too much of a focus on the human characters.
Although I enjoyed the movie, I admit that it has flaws. The film had too much of a focus on the human characters, and should have focused more on the ape characters. The film also tried way too hard to reference the originals. With that being said, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is undoubtedly the magnum opus of the “Planet of the Apes” series. Not only is this one of the best sci-fi movies in recent years, but this is also a film worthy of a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
The film takes place approximately 10 years after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Caesar, an ape with human-like intelligence, is now the leader of literally thousands of other intelligent apes in the redwood forests of California. Along with struggling to keep his fellow apes alive, Caesar must also deal with keeping his ape wife and children safe, increasing the intelligence of his society and keep everyone safe from the constant threat of humans.
Speaking of which, during this time the human race has been nearly eradicated from a virus, called the Simian Virus, from the first movie that kills human beings, but not other forms of life. A small group of people who are immune to the virus now live in constant fear of death in California. The group is led by Malcom (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). After first encountering the apes, neither the apes nor the humans wish to fight, but the humans have little options due to the fact that they need access to the dam near where the apes live, so that they can generate enough energy to survive the winter. From this point on, the movie is a constant roller coaster of triumphs and betrayals from both ends. Caesar and Malcolm want to protect their families, and they see potential for peace between humans and apes whereas Dreyfus blames the apes for the Simian virus, which is extinguishing the human race. Also, an intelligent ape named Koba, who serves as Caesar’s right hand, wishes to exact his revenge on the humans for the torture through experimentation that he underwent. However, Koba has his hesitations about betraying Caesar and going off to attack the humans.
What makes this movie stand out so much is the writing. The overall message about war is very powerful without getting too preachy. Caesar realizes that the apes can easily wipe out the humans, but he knows that means some apes would have to die and that if peace can be reached then there is no reason for them to fight at all. Koba’s character is extremely well developed rather than him being evil just for the sake of being evil. When Caesar talks about the humans getting their work done, Koba points to his scars from the experimentation and says “This is human work”. Rather than hating Koba, the audience instead feels for his character and understands his actions, but may or may not agree with them.
The movie is not without flaw. There are times during the film where you will find yourself saying, “well, why wouldn’t they just do this,” or “why the hell are they doing that.” However, these scenes are few and far between.
Caesar steals the show. Andy Serkis reprises his role from the original and shows once again that he is the god of performance capture, CGI assisted acting. Serkis is best known for playing Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” series, but I would go as far to say that Caesar is his better performance. I would also go as far as to say that it would be a crying shame if he does not receive an Oscar nomination for his performance.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a groundbreaking film for the sci-fi genre. Rather than using the same formula that most sci-fi movies have of using most of the production on over-top action scenes and then having a basic story with mediocre comedy thrown in, this film has a dark no-nonsense tone throughout the entire movie. I whole-heartedly believe that performance capture acting is going to be much more popular in the future, and this is the film we have to thank for that.
Written by: Jacob Yothment