Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
After Rise of the Planet of the Apes was such a pleasant surprise, its sequel had plenty to live up to and fortunately Dawn delivers another great summer blockbuster. Continuing where Rise left off, Caesar and the community of apes have made a home out of the Muir Woods in San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge. Around the world, the virus that started in the labs spread, killing off hundreds of millions. We focus in on a group of humans who survived the outbreak and are living in San Francisco. It’s a dystopian world now and they’re eager to restore power because they only have two weeks worth of gasoline left. The problem is to restore power, they have to venture into the apes’ community.
Caesar is now a family ape, with a son named Blue Eyes, a wife and a newborn. He’s respected and followed by all the apes, especially his good friend Maurice. They also live by a code that apes still together and that apes will not kill another ape. This all stems from Rise when Caesar explains to Maurice that apes alone are weak, but together they’re strong. It’s a fine theme for the first of the prequels, but in Dawn there is a different theme underneath the imminent war that is approaching.
While Caesar leads the apes side of the story, the human side centers around Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his small group who attempts to restore power through the hydroelectric dam while staying with the apes. It’s clear that Malcolm is a good man with good intentions, but on every side there is always a few bad eggs. Caesar has a soft spot for good humans since he was raised by one, but some of the other apes aren’t so trusting of Malcolm.
What Dawn does so well is being a traditional summer blockbuster film while packing it with emotion, significance and morals that are relevant to our world. In this way, it transcends what blockbusters should be. It certainly does what The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back did for their franchises, respectively. It continues the dark tone of the Planet of the Apes prequels, adds urgency to the equation of this dystopian universe, and balances the drama and the action very well. This is easily one of the best movies of the summer.
Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has shown he’s able to capture absolute chaos with breathtaking sequences, but I never expected him to put so much effort and care into developing the characters, both ape and human. And I cannot write a review of this film without mentioning the work of Andy Serkis. The way he portrays Caesar is incredible (paired with the special effects), and a crucial part in telling this story. It’s never a doubt in your mind when you see Caesar walking into the scene, which speaks volumes on how he’s able to tweak a regular ape motion while resembling strength and power. Serkis is the man behind the graphics whose talent is so unique it’s a shame that he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
The end certainly leaves room for the next sequel (maybe two?) until we’re caught up with the original. This is an exhausting film that feels like an epic at just 130 minutes, but in a good way that keeps your heart beating and mind thinking the way intelligent thrillers do. It’s always impressive when a film can make such rich, non-human characters and Dawn achieves that with aces across the board. I can’t wait until the next chapter of Caesar’s life makes its way to the big screen.