Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up more than a decade after the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Directed by Matt Reeves, the sequel focuses on the aftermath of a virus that has nearly wiped out humanity. Conflict arises when a group of apes, led by Caesar, learn that a number of human survivors are residing nearby. Although Caesar does not want to cause war between the apes and the humans, events beyond his control threaten to jeopardize the peaceful, but fragile, society the apes have created. Caesar is forced to come to the realization that war isn’t just inevitable, but also coming in unexpected ways.
Reprising the role of Caesar, Andy Serkis once again uses performance-capture technology to bring his character to life. This time Serkis is joined by Toby Kebbell playing the role of his second-in-command in Koba. The two men, along with Judy Greer and Nick Thurston in supporting ape roles, showcase a realism in their movements that adds a layer of richness to the visual effects. Serkis’ performance as Caesar is the major highlight of the film. He exquisitely conveys the inner conflict he has with not only the strife between apes and humans, but also the fact that his friend Koba vehemently distrusts humans and is pushing for war.
The film’s script plays into the themes of family and loyalty. Caesar’s son Blue Eyes gets caught between his father’s ideology of apes sticking together, and Koba’s thirst to wipe out humanity. The theme of family plays into the human characters as well. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), accompanied by his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and wife Ellie (Keri Russell), sets out on a mission to restore electrical power for the humans’ survival. Malcolm’s journey leads him to Caesar’s compound where he attempts to broker a peaceful co-existence with the apes.
Clarke and Russell demonstrate excellent supporting work in their respective roles. As Malcolm and Ellie they help to remind Caesar of the good qualities of humanity. Another human of note is Gary Oldman’s military leader Dreyfus. Though he views the apes as animals, his motivations are more driven by fear, which makes him a very unconventional antagonist. Dreyfus offers an interesting contrast to Koba who is ultimately driven by hatred.
Matt Reeves’ direction is definitely a marvel in terms of what we have come to expect from a summer blockbuster film. Reeves manages to offer more than just elaborate action sequences and set pieces. Thanks to the script written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, audiences are engaged by the characters and are truly invested in the stakes that Caesar and Malcolm face respectively. With help from Michael Seresin’s evocative cinematography and the exhilarating film score of Michael Giacchino, Reeves is able to keep things exciting without sacrificing the dramatic beats.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a tremendous film from Matt Reeves that not only manages to top its predecessor, but highlights a franchise that actually has something intelligent to say. It’s a film that manages to be captivating and thrilling in an otherwise lackluster summer blockbuster season. In the end, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredible film.
© thevoid99 2014