Until about a week ago, I didn’t have any particular interest in the Planet of the Apes movies. Then a friend invited me to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and on his recommendation I also caught up on the first film in the current run, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is a solid movie in its own right. Dawn is about as different from Rise as can be, but only in the best of ways, and it thrives on suspense, outstanding motion capture and special effects, and a surprising amount of heart.
I could hardly believe how much Dawn kept me on the edge of my seat. It takes just the right amount of time at the beginning to catch you up on what’s happened in the ten years since Rise, and it promptly raises the conflict between apes and humans which brings them into a shaky peace that could be broken at seemingly any moment with one false move. I knew it couldn’t last, yet as the film became more and more tense I found myself very much engrossed in the story right up to the end.
The film is also very well acted on all fronts, but of course Andy Serkis steals the show as the ape leader Caesar. His impressive motion capture performance makes Caesar a character with surprising amounts of depth and emotional resonance. The rest of the apes are done surprisingly well too, especially the vengeful Koba who is downright frightening at times. The human characters are also solid and make you wonder what it would be like to live through their fragile post-apocalyptic situation, while also letting you feel some of the weight of the heavy losses they have all suffered; Gary Oldman gets one scene in particular that’s a real tearjerker. To top it all off, the film is absolutely stunning on a visual level. The special effects are remarkable all around, especially on the apes, which look about as real and expressive as can be.
What I found very intriguing about Dawn is that as the apes progress as a race to show more signs of human intelligence and intuition, they also become more prone to all the vices of our race- hatred, division, and murder, to name a few. I was reminded of how we so often choose to assert our own selfish ambition, sometimes at great cost to our fellow men and women. Depending on the person’s sphere of influence, those selfish and hateful actions can have devastating effects on entire populations- in this case, it caused much division and death among the apes, and (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the original Planet of the Apes) seeing as these are prequels and we already know the apes will emerge as the dominant species on Earth, the unflinching hatred and treachery of one ape actually radically changes the entire world and puts all of humanity under their fist. So there are some elements of the consequences of treachery and hatred as well as the tension of acting out of fear rather than love, and it’s all very thought-provoking if you pay close enough attention.
Dawn truly is just an excellent film through and through. It’s a suspenseful and thought-provoking story wrapped up in a package that’s done very well on just about every level, whether it be acting, script, visual effects, or emotional resonance. I have now seen the movie twice and I can definitely say that if you enjoy a good action/suspense movie, I have nothing but a very high recommendation for the latest entry in the unfolding Planet of the Apes saga.