Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a riveting drama. I never thought I would be saying this for an effects-driven franchise film, let alone a film about talking monkeys. It’s the most realistic Apes film yet, which could mean ‘best’ for some. The simian characters in the film believe they exist in this universe with more conviction than any apes that have ever been on film.
It’s a bold sequel to the 2011 reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and will please fans of the Apes films like me and especially those who think these movies are based on an absurd premise (since it's not as absurd as the rest). It’s being touted as a better film than the 2011 reboot. I probably loved the first film more but only by a smidge. For me, it’s about the absurdity, that’s the reality of it.
The first hour of the film sets up the time, place and the characters. It’s been 10 years since the last film. Most of humanity has been wiped out by the ALZ-113 virus, a.k.a. a pandemic called the Simian Flu. We see a dystopian San Francisco, which the humans and apes have separately inhabited. Production designer James Chinlund makes a stark visual contrast between the aesthetic ape home and the slum human hole.
The conflict arises when the humans need “power”. The rest of the film is a tense battle between who is good and who is evil. After the labels are assigned, it becomes an action film but never loses its dramatic potency.
It’s almost alarming how much I care about Caesar. He is the hero of the film and what an enthralling character he is. Andy Serkis, the motion capture genius, offers his best performance yet. There are two scenes in particular where he knocks it out of the park. After the film ended, I realized I was not just rooting for an ape but also emotionally stirred by him. Equally stirring, but not in the same manner, is the film’s villain – Koba. The most brilliant thing about the new Apes films is how you forget you are watching CGI characters and not actual apes. They are so brilliantly realized; they seem like legit animals and not a cool movie invention. The human counterparts pale in comparison but Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman lend their stoic presence.
The one that started it all, the brainchild of Pierre Boulle, contains one of the best twist endings of all time (thanks to Rod Serling). Planet of the Apes (1968) was not just a good film but a damn good science fiction film. It uses the fictional future as an allegory for the reality of the present. It was about racism (even racist), Vietnam war and the prospect of a nuclear annihilation. The sequels don’t have a specific analogy but are enjoyable films that expand the universe, sometimes in intriguing ways. The reboot and its sequel have made sure they aren’t just petty entertainment.
Let me jump into the heavy stuff for a bit. This film is about war. Don’t mistake that for a film with war scenes. It’s not on war, it’s about it. It questions it. It’s about racism, guns and hate. The animalistic violent tendency in all mammals and the role of weapons in this power play. It’s about the worst of humanity and why it will always, always have a stronger opposing force. It’s about why the good is not restricted to a certain race or species and neither is the bad. It’s about how humans and apes are similar in more ways that we can imagine. It’s not about whose side you are on, but what you side with.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is being called the best sequel/ blockbuster since The Dark Knight (2008). That’s almost nonsensical because Dawn is not even a blockbuster yet (but it should be). It’s become a fad to go dark and realistic since Nolan happened to mainstream cinema but when you get terrific movies like this, you can hardly complain.
The elegantly bleak cinematography by Michael Seresin took me further away from the original films as much as the fantastic score by Michael Giacchino reminded me of them. Matt Reeves, the director of the staggering Cloverfield (2008) and the inspired vampire remake Let Me In (2010), creates a technically rich film that is also deeply moving.
This is not just the best sequel/ summer blockbuster of the year, it is simply one of the best films of the year.view less