I feel that most filmgoers agree that rebooting franchises is one of the most nauseating trends in modern cinema. Reboots usually contain weak plots, bank on the special effects used in the film to sell tickets, and never live up to the original work. I have yet to meet anyone who claims that they prefer the recent Robocop or Total Recall movies to the originals. Because of this, many people were naturally skeptical when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released in summer 2011. It didn’t help that an attempt to reimagine this franchise had already failed with Planet of the Apes in 2001, one of director Tim Burton’s few disappointments. Rise, however, was met with both critical and commercial success, so naturally, a sequel was in order. Now we are treated to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is a sequel to the franchise reboot. The movie also has a new director, Matt Reeves, who has replaced Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt. You can clearly see why I was worried when this film was announced.
Dawn starts off a decade after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The humans have been almost completely wiped out by the Simian Flu, and the apes have established a community in the Redwood Forests of California. Caesar, played by Andy Serkis, is the leader of the ape colony, where he has a mate and two sons. When humans show up at the community asking for access to a nearby dam, the apes agree to cooperate, despite the protests of Koba, an ape who was experimented on heavily by humans before the apes’ emancipation. However, old conflicts and prejudices soon arise between the two groups, and both the apes and the humans soon have to make hard decisions about who they trust.
Within the first twenty minutes of this movie, all of my fears about mediocrity were eliminated. This movie not only lived up to the high standard set by the 2011 movie, but dove even deeper into the themes and characters presented in that film, allowing us to learn more about the evolution of this community that eventually becomes to the ape society of the 1968 classic. I went into this film thinking that it might be a non-stop action ride. To my surprise, the movie had much more focus on the characters than the average summer sci-fi. Most of the movie was about the establishment of understanding and trust between the humans and the apes and the violation of these tenants. For this, I tip my hat to writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who also worked on the 2011 adventure. I also have to applaud Matt Reeves for the smooth and unique direction of the film. There were some points in the movie where I felt certain of what was about to come next, only to be completely surprised by the following scene. It was an impeccably created movie that I was completely impressed by, and I hope that this same team of filmmakers is signed on for any future endeavors with the franchise.
This time around, Caesar is the main character of the film, and Andy Serkis does a knockout job as the chimp. Serkis has been known for being the king of motion capture ever since his performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, but his acting here is definitely the best that I’ve seen from him. Many critics are saying that he could go on to get a nod from the Academy for his performance here. Even if they turn up their nose at him, I’m sure that he will receive the kind of recognition that he deserves. The rest of the cast is superb, as well. Jason Clarke plays Malcolm, a human interested in cooperating with the apes. Gary Oldman also gives a strong performance as Dreyfus, another human who is much more concerned about the apes given that he lost his wife and two sons to the Avian flu. The cast who voiced the rest of the apes was also well-selected, and there wasn’t a single person who felt out-of-place in this film.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about much more than high-velocity action. It’s about overcoming former hatreds, placing trust in those who you thought that you never could, and it preaches that a few bad eggs shouldn’t determine a person’s view of an entire group. There’s quite a bit of moral ambiguity in the film; there were several points at which I wasn’t sure if I should root for the humans or the apes. I personally love sci-fi movies that cause this sort of indecision in my mind, as they force me to use my brain in between action scenes. The film is emotionally intense, and there were parts where I really had to fight to keep from tearing up. This is the best film to be released so far this summer, and I have no problem giving it the highest score that I can.