“… improves on literally every aspect from the first film; most of which I didn’t even know could be improved.”
Aside from a confusing name (seriously, shouldn’t ‘Rise’ come after ‘Dawn’?), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes improves on literally every aspect from the first film; most of which I didn’t even know could be improved. 10 years (give or take) after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, humans have pretty much been wiped out. The virus that makes apes smarter kills humans, so shit kind of hit the fan since we last saw this universe. The world is pretty much a series of post-apocalyptic set pieces, and a shitload of smart apes who have built themselves a sweet Ewok village. Everything is hunky-dory (at least for the apes) until a group of humans accidentally cross their path. Turns out humans have been living in the husk that used to be San Francisco, and now need to venture into the apes’ territory to get power for their homes. This doesn’t fly with a lot of the apes, but Caesar is cool with it. This of course creates a power-struggle within the ranks and you now have the set-up for the movie.
When I say everything was improved from the last film, I truly mean it. I didn’t know that anything could even be improved, but as soon as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes started I knew I loved it even more than the first film. I think this goes hand-in-hand with what I mentioned in my last review about us being attached to Caesar, and wanting him to succeed. He’s technically the villain in the movie (especially to us humans), but the first film gave us so much perspective on his character that you can’t help but be attached to him. And even the real “villains” (humans) aren’t even that evil. We don’t know these people but the way the movie introduces them isn’t in a way that automatically attacks them. They’re scared. Of course there are going to be a few bad apples saying “Kill them all” in reference to the apes, but that’s because they are terrified that if they don’t make the first movie they will all be killed. These people are reluctant to start any kind of war, much like Caesar is, because they know that causalities will not help their cause. Characters from all sides are given their time to shine in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and that is why I think the film is so well written. Much like in real life there is no black and white; things are complicated and with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes we see that. Sure we’re excited when Caesar or any other ape kills that human who’s been a dick the entire movie, much like we are happy when a high school bully gets their comeuppance, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t relate to these characters. And even if you’re not into all of these deep, heartfelt stuff, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has other cool shit too. Do you like great CGI? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has it. Do you like sweet action scenes? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has it. Do you like adorable baby chimps? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes definitely has it. All of these different things come together to give you an experience that you won’t soon forget.
There is something that I have to mention that isn’t praise, but it isn’t exactly hate either. The pacing in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is something that I found to be interesting. The film has quite a lot going on, so understandably it’s going to be a little long at times. The issue (if you can call it that) is that to me the separation was a little too clean. The film spends the first half dealing with one problem, and then immediately switches to another halfway through. Like I said this wasn’t exactly bad, but it kind of felt like two movies mashed together. I’m not sure what could have been done to fix the situation, but I know that as it stands it was a little full. That being said Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to never be boring, even though it may feel a little long at times. Once again the performances that we get in this film are absolutely incredible from all sides. We have Jason Clarke who, despite not being in anything that has amazed me before, did a great job as our human lead. Also playing for the losing side, I mean the humans, we have Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee who both do great jobs as well. And despite not having much of a role in this film, Gary Oldman once again delivers a great performance as the leader of the human settlement, Dreyfus. But really the stars of the show are the mocap artists who do the apes in the film. Of course you have Andy Serkis who once again delivers an insane performance as Caesar, but because the film focuses more on the apes this time around we get a lot of other amazing performances as well. Karin Konoval does a great job as Maurice, Nick Thurston does amazing as Caesar’s son Blue Eyes, and Toby Kebbell delivers a performance that almost rivals Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar as Koba. Seriously, between Caesar and Koba the film had so much emotion and heart despite these characters being animals (granted they are very smart animals, but still animals). I also really liked the score in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes because while it was very fitting, it was also very reminiscent of older films (not unlike the original Planet of the Apes film) with very unique sounds and instruments used. It could have gone horribly wrong using instruments that aren’t super common in movies, but it didn’t and the risk actually payed off (at least to me).
Overall Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to somehow be even better than the first film, which was amazing in my opinion. It takes everything from the first film and improves upon it until you have an almost perfect film. It has everything: heart, action, a post-apocalyptic setting, baby chimps that are so cute they make you forget about how dark this movie can be; everything. I will admit that the pacing was a little problematic (for lack of a better term) at times, but other than that you have another brilliant installment in the already rock-solid Planet of the Apes (reboot) franchise.
I give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes an A