Who would have thought that a sequel to a prequel after a failed remake would end up being one the best movies of the summer? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes what its predecessor started and turns it into one of the best summer movies in years.
We pick up ten years after the first film. The apes have settled into their home in the forests while the humans have fought and tried to survive the Simian Flu as well as the fighting caused from the depletion of resources after the population dropped. For ten years the apes have lived in peace aside from the occasional run-in with humans that are briefly alluded to. The apes have a good society; they hunt for food, they have become advanced enough to make weapons and ride horses, they teach their young, and most importantly, they live in happiness. Things change, though, when a group of humans show up looking to use a nearby dam for power. After some disputes and a confrontation in the human settlement, the apes allow for the humans to access the dam.
It is interesting how the writers paralleled the lives of humans and apes. Both are just trying to survive, both have lost loved ones, and both are skeptical about combining the two species even if it is minimal. The humans, who are led by a man named Dreyfus, played by Gary Oldman, are becoming exceptionally desperate for survival. They are quicker to assume the apes mean harm and often threaten them before the apes threaten them. The apes too are hesitant, mostly an ape by the name of Koba, an ape from the first film, who has many scars from “human work.” His skepticism leads him to find out that the humans plan on assaulting the apes, but he knows that Caesar, the hero ape from the first film and leader of their civilization, will not stand for initiating violence. This begins a conflict that will eventually divide the apes in deciding who is right to follow.
The film, which runs a little over two hours, feels far too short, which is usually a sign that the movie is good. There is not a dull moment in it. From the start, the tension keeps the film running. You never know when it’s going to crack and turn into a full-out war. The human characters are relatable. Malcolm, played by Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke is a man who sees something remarkable in the apes. He tries to befriend them instead of killing them. His wife was killed, and all he has is his son, played by Kodi Smit-Mcphee, and Ellie, played by Keri Russell, who has lost a daughter. Everyone is a victim in this film, which makes the consequences so much more dire. Though the humans are interesting, most of them do not hold a huge role in the film, especially Oldman’s character who is depicted as the villain in trailers but is missing largely from the film itself.
While the human acting is solid as can be, it is good that they are written interesting enough for us to keep focus when what we really want are the apes. The apes are fascinating to watch. While it is a little disorienting to see them talking at first, they are very sophisticated. The motion capture and detail in the apes is phenomenal. They appear almost real in some sequences, and it is very hard to distinguish reality from CGI. This can all be credited to the talented team of motion-capture actors including Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston, and many more. With motion-capture like this, it is brightening the future for better technology and ways in which to use it to enhance films.
There are numerous fantastic set-pieces. From the decaying San Francisco, to the ape sanctuary, to the tops of skyscrapers, to the battles in the streets, they are nothing short of spectacular. Each action-sequence seems to top the previous, especially the climactic battle sequences in the heart of the city with apes on horses. Yes, you heard me. And no, it is not funny like you would see in a YouTube video, it is actually quite terrifying because of how closely it resembles the original film series.
In many ways this film feels like (as the reviews have said) Star Wars. But to me it felt more like The Two Towers than Empire Strikes back. Sure it is easy to say that the film is like Star Wars in a way that the first film could have been a standalone film left open-ended for a sequel. Yet this film feels more like Two Towers because it has that impending doom feel like Lord of the Rings. We still know the end-game for this series of prequels, but any of these films could be enough to leave the rest open for interpretation and speculation. Yet, as good as the previous one did, and as well as this one will surely do, we will be treated to more installments that fill in the missing pieces. All I can say is, bring it on.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best movie of the summer thus far. It combines fantastic CGI and motion capture with an extremely tense story, excellent battle scenes, and the feeling of impending doom for a film that exceeds its predecessor on all fronts. If you have not seen this film, I beg you to do so.