As the summer movie season winds down, there are only a few more blockbuster films left. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to the surprisingly well-done Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). While the entire human cast has been turned over, Andy Serkis is back to reprise his role as Caesar. Serkis’s performance was truly astounding and one of the best of the year.
The story takes place in 2026, 10 years after the end of the previous film. The virus that was created to potentially cure human brain ailments, has spread across the world and wiped out all but a few who are genetically immune. The film’s first 20 minutes are used to show how the apes have created their own home and community in the redwood forests. All communication is done via sign language and minimal spoken word.
We later find out that the humans, who live in a desolate, abandoned San Francisco, are in dire need of a power source. They need access to the dam near the home of the apes, which they intend to use as a power plant. Caesar agrees to allow the humans access and even agreed to help them. Not all the other apes side with Caeser’s decision and a power struggle ensues.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (besides being a horrible name because wouldn’t the dawn happen before the rise? But I digress…) succeeds on so many levels. It is so visually astounding that I never questioned the authenticity of the apes. It is remarkable what studios are able to do with current technology to create real characters within a computer that can emote through facial expressions. I also really enjoyed the performances of the human group, especially Gary Oldman (Dreyfus) and Jason Clarke (Malcolm).
The director, Mat Reeves, who is a relative newcomer to directing, does a great job showing the size and scale of the apes’ home with sweeping shots, yet still keeping the heart of the movie intact by focusing of the eyes and expressions on the apes. You feel for the apes and what they have gone through, not through words but emotions shown on screen. Michael Giacchino’s score is also a standout. Movie scores are typically a difficult mix, as you want them to be heard but not overpower. Giacchino’s score walks this line by providing emotional weight without being too heavy handed.
I hope Serkis will get credit for his performance as well as the effects team, but I also think Toby Kebbell deserves praise for his performance as the antagonist, Koba. Kebbell is new to the motion capture game but still delivers a performance worthy of recognition. I feel like we have finally crossed the line with visual effects to a world where we as the audience don’t know what is real and what is computer generated. It is time we reward the actors for their performances underneath the pixels.
I was skeptical if this sequel would be able to meet the quality of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I believe that Dawn not only meets Rise, but also surpasses it. Dawn has more stakes, more scale, and more heart. I highly recommend seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It is a movie for everyone and I believe it is one of the best films of the summer.