It’s a little strange to see a movie in the summer blockbuster season dare to raise as many social questions as “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. It’s even braver when you’re dealing with a $120 million budget, which actually pales in comparison to the brain dead “Transformers” movie.
While there are numerous action sequences in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and it gets in all the necessary “oohs” and “ahhs” required of today’s action movies, this movie is going to trick thousands of people into actual thought. Of course, everyone needs to get past the fact that most of the social and political commentary involves talking apes.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picks up about ten years after the events of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. The majority of the human race has been wiped out by what is falsely labeled as the “Simian Flu”, when the disease was a product of scientists and has nothing to do with apes.
The apes from the first film live in the forest outside the virtually abandoned city of San Francisco. They are led by the now fully able to speak Caesar (Andy Serkis) and have created a community, complete with teachers, hunting parties, and “doctors”. At this point, the apes live in their own world and haven’t seen a human in more than two years.
That all changes when a group of humans from San Francisco enters the forest in hopes of firing up an old hydroelectric dam. This group is led by Malcom (Jason Clarke), who brings along his girlfriend and former CDC worker, Ellie (Keri Russell), and his son, Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
Once Caesar and the apes find the humans, things go astray. There are humans that don’t trust the apes and consider them nothing more than dumb animals and there are apes that don’t trust humans due to the years of caged experimentation on them. Luckily, both Malcom and Caesar believe that peace can be kept and that each of these communities can survive without getting in each other’s way.
Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), who is essentially the mayor/governor of the group of people hiding in San Francisco, believes that the apes cannot be trusted and stockpiles a massive array of weaponry. The apes get word of this and the newfound trust slowly decays, with the help of a few hateful human beings and apes.
This is when “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” begins to raise numerous though-provoking issues. Essentially, both groups are segregated and it quickly becomes apparent that they need each other to survive. The apes can prosper with human medicine and technology, while the humans need the natural resources surrounding the ape community in order to rebuild civilization.
There are some underlying themes as well, such as gun control and racism. Caesar quickly destroys the guns that the humans bring to the forest, as they are a severe threat to his world. But Caesar also implicitly trusts every ape just because they are an ape.
It’s easy to assume this is diving far too deep into a summer popcorn movie, but “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” definitely wants an audience to think about these things. It’s up to each person to decide what they think is right or wrong and the movie doesn’t jam an agenda down your throat. These heavy arguments are brought up without bias. Is it wrong for one side to have all the weapons? Is it wrong to believe that someone could never do any wrongdoing based on whether they are the same animal (insert race, religion, etc.) as you?
If this sounds too heavy for you, don’t worry, there is plenty of action and excitement in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” for those seeking pure movie escapism. Director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Micheal Seresin show off plenty of gorgeous shots of apes swinging gracefully through the trees and riding horses as they attack. There are several unique action shots, including a fairly breathtaking sequence involving an ape attacking a tank.
The cast of humans are largely just, well, there. Jason Clarke is a convincing lead, even when he and Keri Russell are essentially just around to advance the story. Gary Oldman is not in the movie much, but as always, he goes full chameleon and disappears into the role so that audience members never say “Oh look, it’s Gary Oldman”.
Andy Serkis is the first name in the credits and it’s deservedly so. The technology used to capture his movements and facial expressions is mind boggling. Just because you never actually see him should not take away from how phenomenal Serkis is. The entire movie is about Caesar and Serkis really steps up and carries it.
The themes and action are a big part of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. The biggest part is that every single ape looks 100% real. When it rains, their hair mats to them. Every set of ape eyes looks human. If anything, the movie is worth seeing just to stare in awe at the greatest display of motion capture effects ever set to film.
It’s refreshing to see a movie like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. This movie is not dumbed down, but it doesn’t get too plot crazy. It’s the perfect combination of smarts and fun that should almost guarantee universal enjoyment and plenty of box office receipts.
The ending should also leave everyone anxiously anticipating part three of this series. This is finally a classic movie reboot that is worth seeing.