Following Rise of the Planet Of the Apes released in 2011, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes us on a much darker and deeper – both emotionally and geographically – journey. Taking place 10 years after the first film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes starts with a brief recap of the events of the first movie, during which the simian flu virus killed half of the population of the Earth. Then we’re taken to the Ape settlement, built in the forest not far from San Francisco. The colony that exists under the leadership of Caesar (Andy Serkis) believes that the humans are extinct after years of not coming across a single man. Imagine their surprise when a group of explorers come knocking on their door, almost literary and, well, quite unwillingly.
While the apes were busy building their huts and teaching English to their young ones, the humans that managed to survive the flu due to being immune to the virus, made themselves comfortable – insert sarcasm here – in the ruins of the city, slowly but steadily consumed by surrounding it wilderness. Their only hope for making it through the following years if finding a new – or old – source of power, namely the hydroelectric dam, hidden in the woods within the apes’ territory.
While both Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Caesar are trying to be civilized – ha! – about the issue and built some form of peace, other humans and apes are not sold on their idea, each species viewing the other as a deadly enemy that needs to be eliminated for good. Speak of the entire continent – mostly uninhabited by this point – not being big enough.
The events take a dramatic turn when Koba (Toby Kebbell), who only remembers the worst about people after being a lab rat… sorry, ape for years, betrays Caesar almost killing him, and starts an open war against human race. The situation wouldn’t escalate quite as much if Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), who we know from the first movie, wasn’t feeling the exact same way about apes.
A long and visually impressive battle later, both Koba and Dreyfus are dead but the military reinforcements are coming to help resolve the conflict. Telling Malcolm to hide and save his family, Caesar regains his position as the leader of the ape tribe as they wait for the battle to come… obviously promising the audience the third film in the foreseeable future.
Directed by Matt Reeves, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an obvious step up from its predecessor, both in terms of visual effects and the thematic statement of the film. It is much darker and a lot more hopeless, depicting the future in which the only outcome is ‘either us, or them!’, and frankly, I’d bet on the apes. As it was noted in the film, they’re a lot more adjusted to living in the world that doesn’t require electricity or technology for survival, and if their intelligence keeps evolving, they’d sure as hell find an effective way to get rid of the human race once and for all. Now that’s a bright future to look forward to!
All the kudos, of course, go to Andy Serkis for his performance as Caesar. He basically outdone anything anyone ever did before him. Granted, the entire film relies heavily on the motion capture technology, which has advanced significantly since the release of the first feature. It’s safe to say that this alone makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes the most visually impressive and technologically outstanding film of 2014 by far since no other project has ever done anything quite as grand.
It is sad, however, that technological advancements are not enough to make the film as good as it could have been. What was lacking in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was almost complete lack of character growth. The good guys remained good from the beginning till the end, and so did the bad ones. Malcolm starts off as a peace-maker and, all complications aside, this is the role he keeps playing throughout the entire film. Caesar has some doubts in the beginning but, all in all, he comes round quite fast and stays true to his views. The rest of human crew is ‘just there’ for the most part.
The only leap, I would say, belongs to Koba since he appeared to be loyal to Caesar but his hatred for humans overweighed years of friendship and companionship, understandably. His betrayal wasn’t particularly surprising, even though I can’t see that I saw it coming. The human antagonist Dreyfus also didn’t make any character progress, arc-wise. He did become more of a dick by the end than he was initially but it was to be expected. Other than that… I guess they could have done more with that they had if they made Caesar more antagonistic in the beginning, making his relationship with Malcolm more complicated. But they didn’t. Which is a shame.
Another thing that should’ve been thought through better is a great deal of subtitles. Everyone who saw the trailer expected and anticipated to see talking apes, so it was all cool. Unbelievable – hopefully! – but cool. What wasn’t cool was waiting for 30 minutes to make them start talking. Personally, I’m not a bit fan of subtitles but I don’t find them too irksome either. It is, however, a good tone, I guess, to consider the fact that the audience might not find it easy to read something from the screen. Even something as simple as an unfortunate seat in the auditorium could have made it uncomfortable. Don’t even get me started on the viewers with vision issues. In case of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, subtitles seemed to be too extensive and should have, in my opinion, been cut sooner.
*The horses?! OMG can they please not do it again?
The film was engaging and they definitely get points for twists and dynamic pace. The jungles had a very Jurassic Park vibe, and boy, were those apes real-looking! It don’t, however, leave any lasting impression and I think I forgot about it the moment the credits started rolling. Hopefully, whoever is making the next film will find the right balance between SFX/VFX and the character progression to make it less flat.