‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Is the Summer’s Best War Film
Apes impress in political, military drama
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes includes a scene in which an ape rides a horse through flames while wielding dual machine guns. Nothing says summer blockbuster like impossible action—and Dawn brims with it.
But this is more than just a popcorn-munching box-office distraction. The sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells a story about statecraft and the buildup to war in an apocalyptic setting.
A decade has passed since the events of Rise and humanity is finished. The viral Alzheimer cure that granted intelligence to the apes in the first film has devastated the human population.
The film follows Caesar—the lead ape from Rise who freed his fellow simians, granted them intelligence and led them into the forest to form their own civilization. Ten years on, his ape society is booming, while nearby San Francisco stands empty.
But humanity isn’t quite extinct and Caesar’s society is situated near a dam that could solve the human survivors’ energy needs. The drama that follows is practically Shakespearean.
Dawn’s plot is far better than your standard summer sci-fi fare.
This is a story is about two fledgling nations—the Redwood apes and the San Francisco humans—competing over resources. The humans want something in ape-controlled territory … and the apes want to be left alone.
Leaders of the two groups attempt to negotiate peace while forces within two communities conspire to go to war.
Caesar and his simian court are the best part of the film. Koba—a captivity scared ape—doesn’t trust the humans and pushes Caesar toward war. Maurice, the kindly orangutan, advises caution.
Caesar balances the concerns of his advisers all while raising his son, dealing with a sick wife and fighting off coups. It may sound silly but Dawn pulls off all this ape-based politicking.
Credit for this goes to the incredible technical team behind the ape effects. The animals are entirely computer generated but seem entirely real. Never once did poor animation interrupt my suspension of disbelief.
The motion-capture actors portraying the apes deserve high praise, as well. Andy Serkis’ performance as Ceasar is the highlight of the film, but all of the ape actors are fantastic.
Malcolm—played by Jason Clarke—and Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus lead the humans. Malcolm attempts to negotiate peace while Dreyfus prepares to fight.
The human drama is bland. Oldman classes up any movie he’s in, but he doesn’t have a lot to do in Dawn. The weakness of the human characters doesn’t really hurt the film, however.
It’s the apes that audiences came to see—and director Matt Reeves knows it.
It’s a straightforward story with an inevitable conclusion, but Reeves executes it expertly. He pulls the camera all the way back so audiences can see every soldier in the third-act simian assault.
Gorillas throw barrels and chimps hurl spears as humans flee in terror. It’s everything audiences could ever want in a Planet of the Apes film.
If the drama and politics don’t intrigue you, just remember—an ape will ride a horse through flames while firing two machine guns.