As the follow up to the excellent first film in the franchise, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was a decent attempt at explaining how these apes could come to blows with the struggling human population. I was wondering why the apes would possibly go to war with the humans when Caesar was such a reasonable leader, and I was pleasantly surprised by how the writers dealt with that problem. Caesar’s character remained true to what the first film established and it was clear that he really didn’t want to fight, he only wanted what was best for his own kind. However, his attempts to keep the peace always felt futile, which gave a believability to events, as the world doesn’t always work how you would like it to, and for war to come about that definitely has to be the case. Nevertheless, this is far from a perfect film, and it didn’t really live up to the hype which had built around it just after release.
Whether or not you can enjoy this film depends partly on how easily you take to a story about intelligent apes challenging humans for dominance, and many people struggle to buy into that. Personally, I think that the special effects are good enough in this movie that you can almost forget you’re watching animals, but at the same time the focus is heavily on Caesar and the apes. Although the humans did get a lot of screen time, I never really connected with any of them, and I was backing the apes throughout.
The film revolves around Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and a group of human survivors trying to create a life for themselves after the Simian flu (ALZ-113 virus) has killed much of the population, whilst also trying to avoid confrontation with Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the rest of the super-intelligent apes. As the film begins we are taken into the heart of Caesar’s home, and we see the apes hunt for food, gaining insight on how they survive apart from the humans. I felt that this was a smart way to start the film, because it was important to get to grips with how this society worked in order to create tension with the humans, as they are effectively intruders in another species’ home. However, one of the best scenes of the trailer and the subject of many posters promoting the film was right at the start of the movie, which was quite disappointing. The apes are wearing war paint and on the trailer it seems like this will be the start of some epic battle, but instead all we are witnessing is part of the apes hunting routine. It was a shame that this imagery was wasted on such a small section of the movie because it had the potential to be a really iconic moment, not only in this instalment but in the series as a whole.
Towards the start of the movie the apes don’t really talk to each other all that much and we never actually learn whether all apes are able to speak. Instead they communicate using sign language, which although interesting, was quite poorly executed. There were periods of the film in which you had to spend a lot of time reading subtitles, which obviously is fine, but you can’t always watch the apes movements at the same time as you’re reading and that takes you out of the movie. The subtitles themselves were slightly distracting, and they were also a little bit ridiculous, because the apes would do a couple of seconds of sign language and the yellow writing at the bottom of the screen would appear as two or three lines of complex dialogue. The movements the apes were making couldn’t possibly be the equivalent of that much specific information, so it was clear that what was being conveyed wasn’t exactly what we were seeing. This is only a little problem, but it was one that frustrated me and it was one component of what I felt made the first few scenes the weakest part of the movie.
The special effects in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” are truly breath-taking. Never before has computer animation brought a creature to life in the way that it is able to in this film. Caesar seems as real in the film as any of his human counterparts. Andy Serkis is brilliant, particularly considering how difficult it must be to play someone with a different personality, never mind an animal. You could really sympathise with Caesar’s situation; he faced a struggle for leadership whilst hoping to maintain order in his world and also had to teach the rest of the apes how they should handle themselves with their new found independence. Caesar has learned valuable lessons from his time living with Will Rodman (James Franco), and has a much more sophisticated understanding of the world than his adversaries, and as a result he loses the trust of his allies and makes decisions which Koba (Toby Kebbell) cannot understand, causing friction in the ape world.
Koba was a great villain in this film, because he simply cannot reconcile with Caesar and the humans cooperating. As Caesar himself notes, Koba only learnt hatred from his time with humanity, and as a result, that is all he wants to give back. His rebellious behaviour moves the plot forward so that Caesar can be the hero of the film, whilst tension builds and the seeds of war are planted. However, I do feel that towards the end of the movie his character became slightly too evil and lost some believability. Despite the fact that Koba is the villain, he would’ve made more sense if he was misunderstood and wanted the world to grow and bend to his own liking, rather than trying to simply seize power for himself. The way in which Koba’s character evolved during the film made it difficult to take his character seriously, because (SPOILER ALERT) at no point did I really believe that he could come out on top, and that made the film slightly more predictable than it needed to be. At the end of the day it was quite obvious that both Caesar and Koba couldn’t co-exist, and that Caesar wasn’t expendable considering the fact that “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” felt so much like a set up for a third film.
All the performances in the film were pretty good, but in my opinion Gary Oldman was completely underused. As far as I’m concerned he is one of the best actors around and after seeing the trailer I thought that he would be the main antagonist on the human side of things, but instead he was rarely seen in the film. When he was on screen he conveyed a lot of emotion, particularly when he was looking at a picture of his family; you could sense both sadness and relief (as he wouldn’t have been able to access the picture before certain events in the film came to be) and it was one of the most moving moments in the entire film. It just seems strange to me to have an actor of Gary Oldman’s calibre at your disposal and then limit his screen time as much as “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” does.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a good movie and a strong sequel, however, I personally don’t think that it is a better film than its predecessor, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. This film had the potential to be so much more than it is, it could build on the first film which was a solid start to the series, the trailer was brilliant, the cast is good, but it just doesn’t do enough. It is a movie full of feeling, tension and good performances, but it doesn’t deliver in terms of action and is more predictable than a film with this much ambition should be. Having said that, I still fully enjoyed it and it is a very powerful movie. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a good set up for the next instalment and I enjoyed it quite a lot before I tried to analyse it, but I feel as though it will only be remembered as a revolution in computer-generated imagery, rather than as the defining film in the series.