Genre: Action and Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smith-McPhee, Enrique Murciano, Kirk Acevedo
Release Date: July 11th, 2014
In the 2011 feature Rise of the Planet of the Apes, ambulance
the camera was a tool that director Rupert Wyatt used to show the power dynamic between the apes and the humans. In some scenes, information pills
the camera looked up at the apes rising over their human counterparts while in others, see
the camera panned over the humans who were overshadowing their simian rivals.
In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, that tool is less utilized. With the apes now thriving in their own community and the humans struggling to survive in a dark empty warehouse, it seems obvious who has taken power in this new post simian-flu world and it isn’t the humans.
The apes, like in this cinematic world, dominate this feature. With an opening and a closing shot featuring a close-up of one of them, it seems clear who the main characters are. Andy Serkis, doing wonderful motion capture work here, returns as Caesar— the powerful ape who, in the original, led his fellow apes to revolution and to eventual freedom. Maurice (Karin Konoval), one of his apes he befriended in captivity and who also understands sign language, has now become a teacher in the ape community while Koba (Toby Kebbell), one of the apes experimented on in the original, has now taken his position at Caesar’s right hand.
It’s been ten years (or ten winters, as Maurice calls it) since the events of Rise and according to news reports, only one in 500 humans survived the flu outbreak, hinted at in the end of that film.
To its great credit, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes focuses predominantly on the ape population and the human characters exist here on the sidelines. The Oscar-nominated Gary Oldman appears in a few scenes to rail against the apes while Jason Clarke (who plays a survivor named Malcolm) takes on the lead human role as a family man hoping to use a dam in the apes-controlled woods as a power source.
Malcolm plays the ineviable role of a man struggling between two worlds, who accidentally inflames the now-dormant tensions between the apes and the humans. According to Maurice, the apes haven’t even seen a human in two years so they suspect that the humans are extinct.
What’s telling about this feature isn’t that there’s a standoff between the humans and the apes. It’s that the standoff is incidental here to the real conflict, between the apes that want peace with the humans and those that want to eliminate the humans for their past mistakes. In Rise, the apes were often victimized by their captors or the scientists experimenting on them. Here, they have their own world and their characters are more fully-realized as individuals struggling with the past and preparing for the future.
Like the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a much darker follow-up but that transition feels inevitable. As Malcolm’s girlfriend Ellie (Keri Russell) and his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) attest to, the characters here have witnessed the human population being decimated and humans turning on each other(“Humans destroyed each other,” Caesar notes early on).
It’s not often that a summer blockbuster spends more time on interactions between characters than it does on explosions but this feature, like its predecessor, does just that. This is an exciting, dark and painfully thoughtful film about the creation of a simian culture and the growing pains it causes. It never shies away from its amazing visual effects but it never relies on them. There’s a story here, which is built with a strong foundation and which takes the characters into unexpected places where humans and apes are revealed to be similar in more ways than one.
Review by: John Hanlon