Your Friendly Neighborhood Movie Blog
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredibly captivating sequel to the 2011 franchise reboot. You become invested in everything Dawn offers; whether it be the stunning motion-capture performances by Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell, or the nonstop sheer intensity of its story. Director Matt Reeves takes this celebrated franchise and makes you instantly crave what’s still to come.
Eight years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the lab-created simian flu has spread worldwide, killing off a majority of the human population. Outside of San Francisco, a vast community of apes, led by Caesar (Serkis) who has now learned to speak in broken English. He has raised a family, and seems to be at peace with the world he was once held captive in. A chance run-in with a small group of human survivors, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) causes immediate tension between the two species, and it becomes apparent that trust is the only key to coexisting.
Dawn is a truly spectacular cinematic feat, and one of those rare sequels that outnumbered its already-popular predecessor. Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is able to take a bleak, rundown world and still make it as beautiful as ever. The key word to his style of directing here is intensity; and the tension never dies. Every scene is shot with emotion; between fear, peace, love or aggression and Reeves seems to know just how to play off of this franchise in a unique way. There are a few very subtle parallels and easter eggs to both Rise and the original movies.
The supporting cast of Dawn is used to a fair degree, but the human characters ultimately seem very cliche and one-dimensional. Jason Clarke does a good job as the lead human character, and with his family grows closer to the ape community by establishing trust. Gary Oldman turns out to not be the one-sided villain he appears to be in the trailers; instead he is focused on survival and protecting his own community, and we start to see a bit into his past and everything he’s lost in the epidemic. Keri Russell plays Clarke’s wife, though she’s not as memorable as she is important to the story.
As far as the apes go, they are the highlight of the film. Toby Kebbell’s performance is perhaps one of the best parts about Dawn, as we start to learn a lot more about his character Koba than from what we saw in Rise. His scenes with and without dialogue are menacing, and he makes for a great, multi-layered villain. The rest of the apes are equally as integral to the plot, including Caesar’s go-to Orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), Caesar’s son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and Rocket (Terry Notary).
However, Dawn is without a doubt Caesar’s movie. Andy Serkis once again proves that he is the king of motion-capture, delivering another astonishingly realistic performance. You can see through the CGI and often forget that you’re watching computer-generated apes, and experience the actor’s performances. Caesar has grown much more mature in the past decade, and has taken on a lifetime of responsibilities. He has to balance raising his family with keeping complete order with the rest of the Apes. Caesar now has the captivating screen presence of Vito Corleone, and in many ways mirrors the legendary mobster. Every time Caesar is on-screen, you want to see more of him. And when he’s not on-screen, you’re wishing he was. Serkis provides a massively prominent character; so much so that you can sense his thoughts and emotions with each second.
The score, composed by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek Into Darkness) is a memorable one. Maybe not as memorable as Patrick Doyle’s score of Rise, but still pretty great. Giacchino, like with the Star Trek reboots, is able to take elements from the classic movie scores, and mix them with a modern twist. Some of the keyboard sounds throughout Dawn seem to parallel the original movie series, and sets off a very nostalgic vibe. (Hey, he’s also set to recreate John Williams’ classic theme for Jurassic World next year).
Overall, Dawn is immensely superior to the first installment, and has all the smarts and flawless visuals you rarely find in sequels. You become 100% invested in these astounding character performances, and at times feel like you’re deep within this immensely realistic world. The intensity is something that stands out throughout the entire movie, with rarely a dull second. If mo-cap performances, especially from Serkis and Kebbell in this film aren’t recognized this year come awards season, something is definitely wrong. Dawn is easily in my Top 3 of both the Summer and the year, and will definitely be seeing it once or twice more in theaters.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Apes on Horses
– Josh Sazin, 7/13/14