Rise of the Planet of the Apes rebooted the franchise to a moment in time that was heading on a direct course towards the inevitable destruction of human society. We all know that at some point humanity will crumble, and the apes will take over the planet as the dominant species. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes crawls closer and closer to that moment and shows that nothing can be done to alter its trajectory.
10 years have passed since the events of the first film, and humanity has been ravaged the viral epidemic known as the Simian Flu. Those who are immune from the virus have banded together in San Francisco and strive to rebuild society. Meanwhile, Caesar and the other apes have made a stable life in the outlying forests raising their own families. All that is about to change when a group of survivors come into the forest looking for a way to restore power to the city, forcing Caesar decide whether to help them or drive them away.
With the exception of Caesar, apes and humans have never gotten along. Caesar has seen the self-destructive nature of humans and is weary to assist them, but the group’s leader Malcom (Jason Clarke) reminds him of Will from the first film. Caesar and Malcom manage to come to an agreement that allows Malcom and his group to repair the nearby dam that could supply power to their colony so long as they give up their weapons. Tensions are high, however, and all it takes is just one mistake to create an all-out war between apes and humans.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes increases the intensity tenfold when compared to Rise and manages to do so without becoming a mindless action blockbuster. Not only does the film retain all the elements that made the first one so great, but it also improves upon them in nearly every aspect.
Dawn heavily focuses on the apes’ culture and society. Like any high functioning community there are laws. One of the first things we learn is that apes do not kill apes. Caesar has a family; a wife, a son, and a newborn, to protect. Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, is the heart and soul of the film as he brings the character to life.
When it comes to motion capture, nobody does it better than Serkis, and Caesar is his best performance yet. There are multiple sides you get to see of Caesar, from the caring and loving husband and father to the imposing and commanding leader of the pack. The majority of these emotions are brought out through Serkis’ brilliant acting ability and facial expressions seen through numerous close-ups. The special effects alone are Oscar-worthy and demonstrate how far technology has come in making these characters truly life-like. Caesar also speaks far more often than he did before and when he does his voice is booming. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is very much Caesar’s story.
That being said, the humans do a good job at moving the story forward, although their characters not nearly as developed as the apes. Malcolm is the most interesting of the characters, of course, as he mimics James Franco’s Will from the first film. The others are nothing more than filler, however.
What stands out most about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is its attention to the impending fall of society and how nothing can stop it from coming, despite how much as Caesar and Malcolm don’t want a war on their hands. The battles between the humans and apes, as visually impressive as they may be, aren’t glorious. There’s a somber tone that echoes throughout the entire film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a refreshing reboot to the franchise that defied expectations to be one of the best blockbusters of 2011. Lightning normally doesn’t strike twice, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes appears to be the exception to the rule. The film eclipses its predecessor in every way to deliver one of the best summer films of 2014.
War is ugly not matter which side you’re on. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes captures that sentiment perfectly with its numerous comparisons that show that the apes aren’t too different from the humans. Violence. Betrayal. Human. Ape. In the end, everybody loses.