Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was a pleasant surprise a couple of years ago, but where that film exceeded expectations, its newly released sequel Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes raises the bar for the entire sci-fi genre. The story in Matt Reeves’ directed Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes picks up some ten years after the events of the first film. The human race has been decimated by the virus that was born from the miracle drug that was thought to have been a possible cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Caesar and his companions have made a home in the forests outside of San Francisco, and, surprise surprise, the simian leader is now a father.
The apes have created a society not entirely unlike ours in which the young are educated via sign language in a classroom like setting. There appears to be a structured hierarchy wherein Caesar surrounds himself with his most trusted, each with their own designated role. Koba, who’s scarring indicates a rather unpleasant life in the labs before the uprising, is the enforcer. Maurice, the large Orangutan, is the voice of reason. Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes, is always by his father’s side, presumably being groomed for leadership.
The opening sequence establishes that the apes periodically hunt for food in mass, at least the males do. There has been no contact with humans for “two winters”, but as you may guess, that is about to change. A chance encounter with some simian flu survivors sets in motion what could be an all out war. The apes learn that a colony of humans exists in San Fransisco, and that they are well armed. The colony, led by a man named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), is desperate to acquire a source of power, power that will not only provide electricities and turn the lights on, but will also allow them to make radio contact with other survivors. Unfortunately, the colony’s only option is the dam located just down the path from Caesar and company. Fear and distrust are prevalent on both sides, and despite a valiant attempt to keep things civil, a clashing is in order. And oh what a clashing it is.
I really enjoyed Rupert Wyatt’s reboot despite the shortcomings in the human department. What director Matt Reeves does with this sequel is expand upon the world and culture of the apes without ignoring the plight of the human characters. There is a comfortable predictability to the whole thing, but writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback keep everything grounded and believable. Andy Serkis delivers a singularly unique performance as Caesar while Toby Kebbell is also fantastic as rogue second in command Koba.
Thankfully this time around we get some standout non-apes as well. Jason Clarke in particular is very strong as Malcolm, a father in search of a peaceful resolution. Dawn features some incredible action sequences, however, it is in its quieter moments that it truly shines. Save for a sketchy digitally animated bear, the visual effects are astonishing. So much so that it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the real from the unreal. Post apocalypse San Francisco is an impressive example of production design, appropriately overgrown with moss and vegetation and decorated with rusted remnants of the past that look similar to many of the scenes and backdrops visualized in Sony PlayStation game The Last of Us.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a well-made film that explores the usual theme of racism and prejudice between two different species vying for survival amidst a dystopian society coping with limited resources. In order to co-exist, the leaders of both groups must reach out and reassure each other time and time again that their trust and safety are still intact. In spite of the leaders’ best efforts, there will always be one or two bad apples in the lot who seek to destroy the sacred bond that keeps the two groups together. This film does a fantastic job of depicting the struggles and conflicts that both groups endure and eventually overcome (but not until after they battle out their differences). All the while, they gradually learn how similar they are to one another. Plot conventions dictate that there must be a villain in this story, but in truth, there are no villains. The actions of the characters, however cruel or deceitful, are reasonable given the circumstances and the moral guidelines of which they follow. This is first-rate entertainment and one of the best films of the year.
Need another opinion of this movie? Check out our Felix Bacabac’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes review here