Back in 1968, the first Planet of the Apes was released in cinemas. Over the decades, it has transformed into a massive franchise that has a strong and loyal fan base that is willing to watch each entry, regardless of the quality. In 2001, Tim Burton rebooted it, but only to incredibly poor results. Fortunately, Rupert Wyatt got it right in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. With a sequel inevitably in the works, moviegoers were left hoping that director Matt Reeves would be capable of bringing that magic back to the silver screen with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. However, with the success of the previous feature, audiences will surely have higher expectations for this upcoming sequel. Well, you can all put your thoughts at ease, as this picture will be sure to please audiences around the world.
Much of the human population has been depleted due to a virus unleashed a decade earlier. A growing nation of genetically evolved apes have become sure that humans are no longer around to affect their new way of life. Caesar (Andy Serkis) serves as the leader, but is surprised when they come across a band of human survivors near their territory. They manage to reach a fragile peace, but it doesn't last long. They are brought to the brink of a war, which will determine the planet's dominant species.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is how both the humans and the apes serve as protagonists. Rather than either side being "black-and-white," screenwriters Amanda Silver, Rick Jaffa, and Mark Bomback include a lot of grey areas. Ultimately, we want to see both human and ape succeed. However, the film explores how they aren't very different from one another. Similar to how Caesar is the "main" ape, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is the human that we follow most. While we don't have any background on him, we already have a connection with Caesar that began an entry earlier. Fortunately, the situation of the apocalypse allows us to sympathize with Malcolm. None of these characters necessarily have much to them. Once there is an increase in human and ape interaction, it brings about more intriguing aspects that audiences will surely not expect from a summer blockbuster.
The majority of the plot is told from the apes' perspective, although we spend a little bit of time within the walls where some humans call home. The people are simply looking for a new power source in order to keep the lights on, which happens to be in the forest. Meanwhile, the apes wish to be left alone in peace. While they each have different opinions about humans, they don't want any trouble. However, a war is ultimately inevitable. While most summer action adventure flicks generally scratch the surface of such material, the filmmakers here explore why we go to war and what the consequences are. There are clearly bits of social commentary that is meant to reflect on real issues occurring in the world today, except that the film happens to have apes as one of those entities. This is a unique approach to what could have been a tired attempt at a sequel of a reboot, as the screenwriters have successfully brought substance and meaning to this motion picture.
Screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback cover quite a bit of ground over the slightly-over two hour running time. The film manages to go by fairly quickly, as it never outstays its welcome. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has very little, if any, flab. It's relatively smooth, although I would have appreciated exchanging some of the cheesy human "family" moments out for more backstory on the survivors. Malcolm clearly has a lot more to him that simply hasn't isn't explored. Instead of only allowing his situations to draw sympathy, it would have been more beneficial to provide stronger reasons for us to care about his family. After all, audiences will surely be going into this one expecting to be rooting for apes on horses with guns. Even with this gripe, the feature still stands strong with a sense of deserved confidence that rarely comes from studio films nowadays.
Even though there isn't a lot known about Malcolm, Jason Clarke does a reasonable job with the character. He's convincing in the role, as he fights for the good of his family and the peace between apes and the human race. Gary Oldman doesn't really do much as Dreyfus, but audiences will surely enjoy seeing him on the screen. Even though you might not be able to see him quite as clearly, Andy Serkis is outstanding as Caesar. A lot of emotion comes through this character that wouldn't resonate with audiences as well with any other performer. The remainder of the supporting cast, including Kodi Smit-McPhee join Oldman in the "didn't-do-much" group, as they're simply present in order to be utilized in the marketing campaign. While there isn't anything groundbreaking here, the performances work.
It's quite extraordinary to see how technology just keeps getting better. Rise of the Planet of the Apes looked wonderful, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes realism to another level. Not only do the action sequences look excellent, but the CGI utilized on the apes looks superb. The digital work looks so realistic that you'll forget that these aren't real apes on screen. Director Matt Reeves takes an intriguing perspective on this universe, as he makes apes riding on horses with guns look even cooler than we could have hoped for. Each action sequence is more epic than the last, making for a highly entertaining ride. The greatest sequence in the film is actually a long shot that will surely stick out to viewers, as it even brings about a hint of humor into a scene that's too crazy to believe. The 3D is fluid and realistic. Movements are clear and the colors remain vibrant. There's a fair amount of depth carried throughout the picture, but it never becomes a distraction. This is a visual treat that Reeves should be proud of.
This sequel denies so many negative expectations that were previously held by moviegoers. It's a huge step forward for the franchise, as it delivers exactly what audiences are craving. While it's action-packed, there's actual substance to the plot. There are actual messages and themes that run throughout the course of the running time. While some of the human characterizations could have been expressed in a better way, that doesn't stop the film from utilizing a format that will have you rooting for both sides. If this sequel is any indication, we're in for some incredible follow-ups that I will gladly return to the cinemas for. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a powerful summer blockbuster that loves to exceed expectations. Highly recommended!