The original Planet of the Apes is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Indeed, whenever a movie is added to the National Film Registry there has to be something good about it. It took 33 years for a remake of the classic to come out. Unfortunately, Tim Burton’s re-imagining is not very highly regarded. (I do however think it’s underrated; it’s a lot of fun!) Perhaps that’s why instead of simply rebooting the series again, 20th Century Fox decided to do a prequel. In 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out to success all around. Many were surprised to see a sequel announced, since the film did its job of serving as a prequel to the original film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes from its epic teaser trailer looked to be a film of fantastic quality. Director Matt Reeves definitely delivers the greatest movie of the year yet!
The story takes place a decade after ‘Rise.’ Caesar and his ape brethren reside in the Muir Woods. The “simian flu” has wiped out most of humanity. There are however a number of people that reside in San Francisco. Sadly, they’re running out of power so a team goes in search of a way to aquire electricity. They find a generator, but the place is being inhabited by the apes. The leader of the team, Malcolm, (Jason Clarke) makes a deal with Caesar. Ceasar’s right hand ape Koba however despises humans and begins to grow a hate toward his leader…
“Wow!” That’s the word that coursed through my mind throughout the film. ‘Dawn’ is a near flawless movie, easily eligible for the National Film Registry. While a lot of the story focused on the humans in the first film since it was an origin, this one does a 180 and the main characters are instead the apes with the humans as the costars. Not only is Caesar a focus, but also Koba, Maurice, Blue Eyes, and a few others. It is brilliant how the film uses subtitles to convey what the apes are saying. Of course, a few of them are able to speak rough English, which isn’t overplayed and is just right. They are of course the highlight, but that’s not to say the human characters are bad by any means…
Malcolm is a solid character portrayed by a solid actor. Admittedly he isn’t anything we haven’t seen before in film, but still a good character to root for. His wife, Ellie, (Keri Russell) is once again nothing we haven’t seen before, but remains a nice character to have around. The scene with her explaining to Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) that she has all she needs in the form of him and Malcolm was very good. Gary Oldman is definitely the most well-known actor of the bunch and provides an engaging performance as Dreyfus, the leader of the remaining humans. Thankfully the film avoids all tropes with Alexander, Malcolm’s son. He’s actually pretty likable. There are a few other human characters, but none as notable as these people.
The apes are all fantastic. Andy Serkis delivers another incredible, and arguably even more incredible motion capture portrayal of Caesar. Next to Godzilla, he’s quickly become the most well liked “creature hero” of cinema. He commands a powerful presence and attention with every scene he’s in. While Caesar is of course the primary highlight, one must give extreme credit to Toby Kebbell for his portrayal of Koba. This ape goes from loyal follower to disliking Caeser’s love for humans really well. It’s done so well that for awhile viewers can greatly sympathize with him. He ends up being one of the greatest villains of cinema this year. The rest of the apes are also great. Maurice, Ceaser’s son Blue Eyes, and the rest are all fantastic to watch. It is still quite amazing how much emotion the apes display, and how distinctive their personalities are.
While the movie boasts impressive CGI and action, it also generates some of the most emotion I’ve ever felt for a summer blockbuster. Scenes such as Caesar asking about his family and Koba doings something truly horrible to one of his ape brethren will bring a tear to even the most hardened viewer. Like X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film is much more about the plot and characters over action. That’s what makes the two primary fight scenes stand out. The soundtrack is solid. There aren’t any standout themes, but each fits its accommodating scene well.
Overall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one the finest movies of the century. It’s everything a sequel should be: it builds upon the plot established in the previous film and makes it a more grand and epic experience. While the human characters are good, it’s the apes who truly make the movie. Caesar’s character is greatly deepened and ends up being one of the most engaging characters in all of cinema. Koba is also a huge highlight. Seeing his character develop throughout the film was fantastic to watch. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a very good movie, but Dawn was basically perfect.