More than just a movie about apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes presents us with complex issues including power, equality and trust. Science Fiction’s ability to explore real-world issues is what draws many to its genre and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes filmmakers give us an abundance of topics to consider, but does so in the most entertaining way.
The film begins where 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes left off. We find that a simian flu spread across the globe resulting in a massive loss of life. Many humans survived the virus, only to then become causalities of violence that occurred after the breakdown of law and order. Ten years after the epidemic began, Caesar, formerly Will Rodman’s pet that turned his back on the human world, has proudly built a peaceful community of apes deep in the woods outside of San Francisco. Recognized as the leader of the simian community, Caesar advocates the importance of family and has successfully created a society that abides by the rule that apes will not kill other apes. Their tranquil existence is interrupted by the appearance of humans from the Zone 9 Quarantine area. Almost out of fuel and in search of power, the group is looking to fix the hydroelectric dam that lies beyond the ape community. A clash between humans and apes is inevitable and the result brings out the best and worst in both.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the eighth film in a series that began in 1968 with Planet of the Apes, a film adapted from Pierre Boulle’s 1963 book of the same title. Starring Charlton Heston, the original movie was co-written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows in the steps of the original, as it explores what is now a dystopian society. Serling was well known for his exploration of issues such as politics, war, power and equality in his work and screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) team with Mark Bomback (The Wolverine, Live Free or Die Hard) to give us a story that would make Serling proud. In its examination of how society would fare after a cataclysmic event, it presents deep, philosophical questions about man and the world. Much like humans, Caesar has built a species centric community in which apes are bound by their likeness. The apes though, soon learn the lesson already well known to man, that there are good and bad in any society and with little thought, the bad will use nefarious means to secure what they desire. As in real-world politics, the public will follow out of fear and even Caesar’s carefully crafted world, it seems, is not immune. One of the most important subjects the filmmakers consider is power, the desire for power and the extent to which many will go to harness it.
Under Matt Reeves’ stellar direction, the performances in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are powerful. The apes seem human, each with a compelling story that engages the audience. In particular, Andy Serkis brings the beloved ape, Caesar, to life. With a list of accolades to his credit, Serkis does not disappoint with his captivating performance. One of the most talented actors of our time, Gary Oldman is also notable as Dreyfus, a man whose methods and misconstrued intentions creates havoc for the human colony. Oldman portrays a character that we easily despise, even as we understand his motivation.
The true star of this movie, though, might just possibly be the use of performance capture. Performance capture uses the actions of actors to animate digital models and the result is eerily lifelike apes with eerily real emotions. Advances have allowed the use of the digital format on location and the sets in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are spectacularly vivid.
By far, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes surpasses its recent predecessors with a solid story and characters whom, even though many are apes, we can relate to. It is fast paced and visually stimulating with superb special effects. All told, the movie combines all the elements that make a movie worthwhile. There is little doubt that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is more than deserving of its blockbuster status.