Yes, you normally rise after the dawn, but who cares? This is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made!
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and follows Caesar and a group of humans as they form a fragile alliance in an attempt to establish peace.
The movie takes place in the 2020s, and humanity is on the brink of extinction because of the ALZ113 virus that James Franco and his team created in Rise. Meanwhile, Caesar and the apes thrive in the Muir Woods above San Francisco as they have built an entire society based on family and unity.
Just like Rise before it, Dawn exceeded all expectations, but to a greater extent. Granted, I don’t know what the original Planet of the Apes sequels are like, but who would have expected such a piece of science fiction to be so intelligent in its own right? This movie is brimming with brilliant themes of conflict, peace, fear, paranoia, family, and more. Not only that, but Dawn is a fantastic piece of cinematic art in almost every way.
The film revolves around Caesar and the humans teetering on the brink of war as the latter tries to repair a hydroelectric damn that can restore power to their colony in the apes’ territory. Figures on both sides want peace, but others want to wipe the other out.
Caesar is one of the best movie characters of the decade; aside from Andy Serkis’s captivating performance and the spectacular special effects used to bring him to life, Caesar’s motivations and desires to maintain order and their way of life are remarkable. He thinks and acts like how such a character should. As Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar’s deceptive right-hand-ape, pressures him to declare war on the humans out of his hatred for them, Caesar counters him with logical ideologies. These include notions of keeping the society of apes together, preserving as many lives as possible, and attempting to establish peace. His motivations are very realistic and provide him with immense depth, fully fleshing him out as a three-dimensional character and a protagonist you can’t help but admire.
Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty) is the main human character, who is very much like Caesar. He may not be as compelling as Caesar, but Clarke was a good choice to act opposite to Serkis as a man who wants the same as he. They both have families they long to protect and want the best for, and make every effort for peace.
Koba and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are the forces on the two sides that want to go to war with each other out of hatred, fear, and paranoia. They both think the other will attack first, and they are afraid of each other because they see them as a threat to their existence.
Some may not find it interesting that there are two characters on both sides that are nearly the same, but creating that dynamic adds layers to the story and the people in it. Such a film is far more engrossing than one in which only one side wants to avoid war and the other desires nothing more than to shoot and blow things up. That’s the easy route, one that happens far too often can be done with little effort creative wise. Making Caesar and Koba two sides of the same coin, and doing the same with Malcolm and Dreyfus, creates a thinking movie through their great characters and superb writing.
Nobody could have directed this movie better than Matt Reeves. He gave Oldman one of the best scenes in the film when he reflects on his deceased family exclusively through vocal sounds and facial expressions. His acting is flawless and the absence of words is a marvelous way of visual storytelling. An even more impressive scene is when the apes attack the human colony, and it is gorgeous filmmaking in itself. Everything flows so seamlessly from the acting to the cinematography, the music, and the visual effects to create the perfect moment that starts the war. Furthermore, Reeves was able to get a great performance from Toby Kebbell. Much of his résumé, including Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Wrath of the Titans, Fantastic Four, and Kong: Skull Island had him give less-than-stellar performances left to right. Conversely, he is outstanding as Koba. Kebbell is able to convey his loyalty in the first act, as well as his rage, hatred, and lust for violence in a believable, enthralling way. Not even Elijah Wood or Sean Astin were able to act opposite to Serkis in The Lord of the Rings in such a sensational manner. For a director who was making only his third major picture, Reeves landed everything with a massive bang.
Overall, brilliant characters, excellent writing, thought-provoking themes, dazzling performances, and masterful directing make Dawn of the Planet of the Apes one of the greatest works in the history of the genre and one of the best films of the decade so far.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets an A+
“My livelihood depends on the art of animators.”-Andy Serkis
If you haven’t already, you can check out my review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes here.
Be sure to check back on Friday night for my review of War for the Planet of the Apes!
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