Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
Directed By: Matt Reeves
There are few sequels that stand as better entries than the movies that came prior to them. Empire Strikes Back is one of them. So is Spider-Man 2. The Dark Knight is another. Well, we can now add Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to that list. Yes, the sequel to 2011’s way better than it had any right to be Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that good. It builds upon what was set up in Rise, but also stands on its own as a stellar film as well.
It’s been ten years since Caesar (Andy Serkis) led his apes into he woods outside of San Francisco. In that time, the virus released by the apes has ravaged humanity. The small packet of survivors camped out in the runs of San Francisco are led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a man who’s struggling to find a way to keep his large community with enough fuel to survive. Thankfully he’s got Malcolm, (Jason Clarke); a former technician who believes that the dam located in the woods can be used to supply the community with the power that they need to survive. Of course, this dam lies within the boundaries of Caesar’s colony of genetically altered apes, which leads to a power struggle for Caesar, who wants to try to build peace with the humans, even though his fellow apes don’t trust them.
Yeah, that plot sounds pretty simple. And it is. But this movie is incredible. Director Matt Reeves puts the perspective firmly on Caesar and his struggle to try and keep the peace between his apes and the humans, and it’s surprisingly moving at times. A lot of screen time is devoted to the apes, and if you think that might be a bad thing, it’s not. In fact, it’s necessary for the big finale of the film, when a crew of apes attack the surviving humans. It’s more than just a CGI fest filled with awesome scenes; it’s extremely devastating to watch. Apes go down as fast as the humans do, and in the end, you don’t know entirely which side to root for.
The CGI in this film is absolutely top notch. There are moments where you forget that you’re watching a computer-animated ape communicate with a human. Of course, as good as the CGI is, Dawn wouldn’t be the same movie if Andy Serkis wasn’t the performer behind Caesar. This film is exhibit A for why Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination. Yes, CGI helped make him LOOK like an ape, but the facial expression, movements, and voice are all him.
Equally as good as Serkis is Jason Clarke, who along with Keri Russell serves as our primary human characters. Clarke is essentially the James Franco character in this film (AKA the good hearted human), and he brings a lot of depth to his character. His reasons for getting the dam up and running are more than just being able to turn the lights on. It’s for his son as well. There’s a very clear father/son theme that runs throughout this movie, with Malcolm trying to protect his son and Caesar not only caring for his newborn son, but also trying to connect with his older one as well. It’s these relationships that give Caesar and Malcolm their common ground, and when the two characters realize that there can never be peace between the surviving humans and the apes it’s really heartbreaking.
If there’s one criticism I have with this film, it’s that the trailers definitely play up Gary Oldman’s role to be bigger than it is. He’s really in the film for maybe a half hour at most. However, he’s Gary friggin’ Oldman, and delivers some pretty strong moments as well, even if a lot of them are “we’re going to kill those things if they come back here”. There’s a quiet moment late in the film with Oldman’s character that not only allows you to see the cracks in his gruff exterior, but feel for him as well.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the rare summer blockbuster that’s not only visually exciting and full of action, but extremely moving as well. I think it’s fair to say that no one expected this when Fox first announced their plans to reboot the Planet of the Apes franchise, but man, I’m glad they did. Dawn is an incredible movie, and so far stands as one of, if not the best, movies of the summer. I won’t lie; I even almost shed a tear at the end of the film. This is a movie that deserves your hard earned cash, and you don’t even have to have seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes to enjoy it.