Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
by Jason Koenigsberg
This production Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It picks up the story about a decade after the events of the first film which ended with Caesar, the brilliant chimpanzee with speech capabilities thanks to an Alzheimer’s disease drug test gone awry, leading his band of apes into the woods outside of San Francisco, and a plague (also a result of the new drug developed by humans) spreading across the globe and wiping out most of humanity.
In Dawn we see the apes living peacefully in the beginning of the film, hunting and raising their offspring in a community similar to how Native American tribes lived before European settlers came across the ocean. The humans that remain alive on Earth are struggling to survive and create a successful society. They are based in San Francisco and wander outside the city like the humans do on AMC’s The Walking Dead for food, supplies and ways to generate electricity to their homes in post-apocalyptic California.
Obviously trouble arises when the humans encounter the apes. The people led by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell who are searching the forest for a reservoir that can generate power to pump electricity to the city which is lead by Gary Oldman who comes off as simultaneously ruthless at times as well as sympathetic. However even the best “human” performance is mediocre compared to the performances of the actors playing the apes most notably Andy Serkis, returning as Caesar, gives another remarkable motion capture performance on the same level as his Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
The acting and development of the apes is much more complex than most summer blockbusters develop their characters. The set design of the post-apocalyptic San Francisco is intricately detailed and enthralling. The special effects enhancing the ape performances are so masterful that you might forget that it is actually a human with make up and CGI plugs all over their face and bodies on the screen. Also the visual effects for all the action scenes are riveting when they need to be and overall exquisitely done. This picture is nearly flawless from a technical standpoint. Director Matt Reeves has made his best film to date learning from his mistakes on his previous big budget films Cloverfield (2008) and Let Me In (2010).
The only major problems I had with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were with its screenplay with such a heavy-handed liberal agenda, when the human characters spoke and even when some of the apes communicated with each other it was very unnatural and trying very hard to send its overly liberal messages to the audience. This movie was about as subtle as a Paul Haggis film. All Planet of the Apes pictures have liberal themes starting with the 1968 original. They are all allegories for dealing with racism, nature, second-class citizens, socioeconomic politics, animal rights, gun control and the dangers of technology. Yet none of them were so unashamedly blatant in their approach to tackle these issues in our faces. Personal politics aside, I am a registered Democrat and agree with the message this film sends as well as the messages from most of the earlier Apes movies. However, what I do not like is when the script is so self-righteous that it takes me out of the movie because I know that people especially in such desperate times are not going to talk like they are on a soapbox when what they really need is some medicine and electricity.
Even though the ape scenes were more compelling than the human storylines, the biggest offender of the message being beaten to death for the audience came towards the start of the third act in a conversation between Caesar and his son. Visually the movie was more subtle and beautiful than the screenplay. It is a shame that they could not hire better writers or script doctors to alter a few of the scenes that would give the viewer a little bit more credit and treat them with a little bit more intelligence.
Despite the script that seemed as if Michael Moore wrote it, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a very good summer action-science fiction film. I just wish these big studios would give audiences a little more credit when it comes to getting their messages across or at least do it with more subtly. Technically it succeeds on every level with tight editing and some very good performances, the best being Andy Serkis as Caesar. It in many ways just as good as the previous film and when it was over I absolutely want to see more of what they can do with this rebooted franchise and this new world they have created.