Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

12 Jul


Rise of the Planet of the Apes was about a regular ape who grew into a leader, inspiring others to rebel and to break the shackles binding them to the human race. The sequel is about what happens when the memories of those shackles linger on not only in that specific ape’s mind, but also in the minds of apes unwilling to move on and forget.

Of course, moving on and forgetting are entirely different concepts. Koba, the main ape antagonist of the film, equates the two, balking at Caesar’s history with the humans and at the idea of letting the people who wronged them back into their lives. The torture and the experiments and the poking and prodding weigh heavily on his mind, and he simply can’t allow the humans to do their “human work” of utilizing a dam to restore power. In one of the film’s best scenes, he points at the scars on his body received during the countless experiments from his past, accusingly spitting out “human work” at Caesar, trying to get his leader and brother to remember being a lab animal at the mercy of scientists. The thing is, Caesar certainly remembers. He doesn’t “love” humans, as Koba suggests; rather, he’s experienced the good in humans and continues to be able to recognize it alongside the bad. Koba believes that makes him weak. As Caesar says, though, Koba’s lack of the ability to do so makes him weaker.

And therein lies one the film’s biggest strengths: its fairness. Even though we sympathize with certain characters over others, we can understand the motivations behind what everyone does. It’s not a black and white, us-vs-them movie (“Grr, you stupid monkeys!” “Bastards! You experimented on us!” “ME NO LIKE APES!” *War erupts*), something it very well could’ve been; it takes its time developing the conflicts, integrating the humans and apes before all hell breaks loose. The film answers “Why does conflict develop?” more often than it does “How does conflict develop?”, and it’s all the better for it.

We’re placed into a world in which growth occurs out of death and destruction, out of a new status quo, out of the simian flu–the film picks up literally right after the after credits scene of Rise–and those who can’t grow get left in the dust. Here, the idea of growing is about moving past cultural barriers in an environment that is doing anything but having a growth spurt. This idea plays out amongst both the apes and the humans, and although the parallels between various characters are overt, it’s kind of the point. On one side are the humans, on the other are the apes, and perceptions of superiority crash and burn in the middle because they’re reflections of each other.

There are still leaders, though. We see right from the start–the film opens not with the humans, but with the apes–how well-respected Caesar is, how loyal other apes are to him, and how the community is structured. When we shift over to the humans, our focal point is Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, and the way his and Dreyfus’s (Gary Oldman) relationship develops is akin to the way Caesar’s and Koba’s relationship develops; more on that in the spoiler section. As for the rest of the cast, people like Keri Russell (no wig) and Kirk Acevedo are good, but the human side of things is a bit shaky when compared to the emotional resonance we get from the apes. For example, the film parallels two sons–Blue Eyes, Caesar’s son, and Alexander, Malcolm’s son–and does it fairly effectively, but something like the Malcolm/Ellie-Alexander relationship feels half-developed when held up to Blue Eyes’s journey.

Everything we get with the apes more than makes up for those minor shortcomings, however, and aside from being surprisingly hard-hitting, the film is also a spectacle to watch. The tension is built up throughout before everything explodes, and there’s a 360 degree tank shot that’s absolutely perfect, monkeys riding on horses while blasting away at everyone around them, and Andy Serkis being his typical brilliant self. Caesar’s a multi-faceted character with the most interesting internal conflict–what kind of leader he can and should be–of the film, and Serkis is the perfect actor to convey those emotions and to craft a truly unique character out of some excellent CGI.

Ultimately, as impressive as the CGI is, it would be an empty film without the story, one that’s moving, exciting, and brilliantly laid out by Matt Reeves and co. Just like this is so much more than merely a blockbuster, the characters in the film–as cliche a statement as this is–are so much more than how they’re initially perceived by others. We open on a close-up of Caesar’s face, his eyes intensely narrowed, waiting for the kill. We then pan out, seeing his arm held up in anticipation and countless others following his lead, and when he drops the arm, the attack begins. We see apes.

When the final image of the film rolls around, we can see much more.



(Quick note: I include a spoiler section with each of my reviews because I feel like I can’t truly review a film without dissecting its most important aspects. However, for anyone discussing the plot points I bring up below, please mark your posts with a spoiler tag. Not everyone has seen the film yet.)

-The final shot of the film, which I vaguely alluded to above, is, fittingly, a closeup of Caesar’s face. The first image is one of a Caesar who’s settled down and is hoping for peace to be sustained, while the final one is of a Caesar who realizes that war has already begun and that there’s nothing to do to hold back the humans.

-I also really like the image of Malcolm fading out into the background after the fight, which can be seen as representative of the human race as a whole.

-The film does a really nice job of building tension and balancing sympathies. Kirk Acevedo’s Carver seems like the catalyst for the all-out war at first, but when Koba kills him, Koba becomes the main catalyst. In the end, Koba’s fate mirrors Dreyfus’s fate; here are two characters who lack the ability to look toward the future, and interestingly enough, Dreyfus’s last words are “I’m saving the human race!” He believes he’s preserving the future, when in reality, his mindset’s similar to that of Koba’s. There are also a few nice touches in there from the script: when Dreyfus first starts to give a speech, it takes him a while to get everyone’s attention, while Caesar automatically gets it with the raise of an arm.

-Also, that’s a pretty lame explosion, Dreyfus. You killed, like, 5 apes.

-Whoo, those fight scenes! I mentioned the tank shot, and I also really love the one of Koba riding through flames, all the while shooting away with two guns. The tower scene is brilliantly done as well, and I nearly had a heart attack when Maurice was shot.

-Blue Eyes! He’s very much his father’s son, and although he’s influenced by Koba, he realizes the error of his ways. I really like the paralleled reaction shots: Blue Eyes staring horrified at the death and destruction around him, followed by Dreyfus doing the same as the apes break through. You can sympathize with and understand Dreyfus, and although the trailers build him up to be the villain, he really isn’t one.

-Koba learned hate from the humans, and nothing else. Perfect encapsulation of the character by Caesar.

-I really like the scene in which Koba’s laughing and drinking and whatnot, then shoots the guys, turning it dark in an instant. Also, his “fuck these guys” expression as he’s leaving them earlier is perfect.

-James Franco cameo! That’s one of the most affecting scenes of the movie, and Serkis plays it beautifully.

-I didn’t stay for the credits, but apparently there’s a sound at the end of some wreckage being moved? Maybe suggesting Koba’s alive?


-Maurice, man. I want Maurice to be my friend.


-This movie is what Avatar wanted to be.

-Michael Seresin was the cinematographer for the film, and he deserves a special shout out, as does James Chunlund for the production design. The world this production team crafted throughout was just plain brilliant.

-Also, yay, Michael Giacchino! His work on Lost still gives me chills, and the score is fabulous here.

-Here’s some more info on how everything was shot:


-And here’s a B-Roll for you, in which you can actually see the filming process play out:

-Kudos also go out to those I haven’t mentioned: Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Judy Greer (Cornelia), Toby Kebbell (Koba). Kebbell, in particular, is a revelation, and he holds his own against Serkis’s magnificence. Two truly amazing performances here.

Photo credit: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2oth Century FOX, Dune Entertainment

3 Responses to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review”

  1. MovieManJackson July 12, 2014 at 9:11 pm #

    Wonderful analysis, especially in the spoilers section! Blew me away, and I may have been more invested in Caesar than any other character I’ve seen in theaters this year. Wonderful film.

    • polarbears16 July 13, 2014 at 2:23 am #

      Thanks! And yeah, Caesar’s character was brilliantly written and performed.

  2. Pop Eye July 19, 2014 at 3:30 am #

    Excellent review, PB! I couldn’t agree more.

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