Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the 2014 sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Set ten years after the events of the first film, we are introduced through a series of news blurbs to the state of the human race during that ten year time frame. As the Simian Flu is breaking out, the world’s population is dying, leaving the planet for the taking for the apes. But that isn’t necessarily what’s happening, as the film takes place primarily in San Francisco, as well as the wooded area surrounding the city.
The apes live in the forest in peace, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), until a band of humans tread upon the forest grounds with the intent of powering a nearby dam to fuel their small base in the city. With little to no trust between the apes and humans, conflict is immediately set up. When Malcom (Jason Clarke) leads a small expedition with his wife Ellie (Keri Russell), son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and several others to reason with the apes, a truce is made; however, there is still hesitation. That hesitancy is felt on both ends, from humans and apes alike. When Carver (Kirk Acevedo) expresses his dislike for apes, and Koba (Toby Kebbell) expresses his dislike for humans, it is up to Caesar and Malcolm to keep the peace between the groups, no matter how hard it may be.
Also playing a part in this somewhat political, somewhat naturalistic plot is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), leader of the surviving humans. Oldman’s portrayal of Dreyfus is reminiscent of his portrayal of Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. Still, it would have been nice to see a fresher character that added a somewhat different dynamic to the film. Instead, Dreyfus disappeared in a film that was primarily about the apes.
That being said, the apes ran the film from start to finish. The visuals were stunning, and the acting was realistic, adding an emotional, human-like layer to an otherwise animalistic breed. It was interesting to see how the apes were created in Rise, but more interesting to see how they continued their lives in Dawn. With the human race dying out, it’s worth a note to wonder if this is how life actually began, and if the human populace was about to be reset, thus cleansing the earth. There are several underlying themes here, with nature playing a major role in this, as well as the idea of evolution.
Backing away from a possible deeper meaning in the overall scheme of Rise to Dawn and beyond (and there will be a beyond in the form of a third film), and observing more of what’s at the forefront of the actual plot in this film, there is a major political story being told. In a more clear-cut way of portraying things, humans and apes are two completely different species intent on preserving their own breed first and foremost. What Dawn does is allows us to see that perhaps we as humans intend to preserve our own races or ethnicities, initially ostracizing those that are different. We see in the film that not all humans are the same, and that not all apes are the same (there are good and bad in both species). Dawn affords us the opportunity to see that not one group of people (or apes, in the film’s case) should be judges as a whole, but instead be judged as individuals. If that’s what this film intended on showing us, it did a good job of portraying it.
There’s not much bad that can be said about Dawn. As stated, it was visually stunning, emotionally realistic, and fully meaningful in many places. The story was moving and the action was stimulating and attention grabbing. Clocking in slightly north of the two hour mark, there wasn’t a single moment of boredom, and that’s saying something. Whether you’re a nature lover intent on seeing a movie about animals, or an action-junkie hoping for something explosive, or simply someone who wants to enjoy a thoughtful film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes provides interest for nearly everyone. It’s even a step up from the first installment, making it a must see.
Final grade? A