Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Matt Reeves
Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver (Novel: Pierre Boule)
130 min.
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

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Source Material

Few franchises have been able to reboot themselves years or even decades later without running into tremendous problems staying true to the original or at least feeling like a natural successor. In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes proved it was not only possible, but incredibly feasible. Now, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes attempts to overcome the risky proposition of becoming a sequel to a well received reboot.

In Pierre Boule’s original work Planet of the Apes, a space traveler arrives on a mysterious planet where a race of apes has subjugated the human population. A pair of conscientious scientists recognize advanced thought in their new acquisition and work to help him escape. If you haven’t seen the original film, then this next bit of information will be a spoiler. It turns out, the traveler has arrived on planet Earth in the distant future. Rise of the Planet of the Apes takes us back to the beginning where human civilization was testing Alzheimer’s drugs on chimps and a surprisingly powerful cocktail managed to give sentience to a young ape named Caesar, who developed at a human’s rate.

At the end of that film, the Alzheimer’s drug, fatal to human beings, began spreading across the globe, a pandemic from which human civilization struggled to recover, wiping out around ninety-percent of the world’s population. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up with that pandemic in its opening title sequence and then pushes forward ten years where Caesar, an always compelling Andy Serkis, and his family have settled in the dense forests outside of San Francisco. A group of survivors have taken refuge in the city and have sent a survey team to a nearby hydroelectric power plant in the hopes of getting it going again and generating power for an increasingly frustrated populace.

At the head of the expedition, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) seeks permission from the apes while factions within each group, the apes and the humans, begin plotting against the apes in case either group turns against them. Trust and faith are perpetually strained as the inevitable collapse of friendliness leads to a deadly conflict between the factions.

Serkis is the lone key player to return from the prior film, established now as a patriarchal figure whose compassion, learned from humans, prevents him from seeing the bad in those closest to him. Serkis is an intense physical actor, the likes of which few have seen. With Caesar, he’s established three of the big screens most enduring creatures following Gollum in The Lord of the Rings films and the modern version of King Kong. Each of these characters have physical tics that distinguish them from each other, building off various modes of emotion. Gollum was a tortured, vicious soul, Kong a lonely one and Caesar a believably paternal character. Gollum required the most emotional variance, but Caesar is the most humanlike of characters he’s so far created.

With such brilliant work at the lead, it’s no surprise that the human counterparts can’t compare easily. Clarke, Keri Russell as a physician and Malcolm’s romantic interest, and Gary Oldman as the human faction leader who wants to prepare for the “inevitable,” which means encouraging hatred among his people and further endangering those who he’s meant to protect, are all fine, but they don’t have a resonance to their characters like Caesar’s. Among the apes, Toby Kebbell as Caesar’s second-in-command and Karin Konoval as his trusted advisor Maurice stand out for their performances, bettering their human counterparts. Alongside them, Nick Thurston as Caesar’s son Blue Eyes is on par with Clarke, Russell and Oldman. It’s also interesting to note that while the other apes have a very animal-like quality to their design, Blue Eyes has younger, more perfect skin and better resembles the mask-wearing apes of the 1968 original.

What made the first film so successful was the screenplay. This becomes obvious when you realize that the sequel swaps in director Matt Reeves, but retains original screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, adding in Mark Bomback for good measure. Like it’s predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes focuses on the naivety and idealism of apes. Having so recently attained full sentience, the apes have only experienced captivity and experimentation. With their new freedom, they discover who liberating it is to have their own self-determination, the ability to live at one without interference from the very civilization that imprisoned them.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes expands this existential examination by comparing the attitudes of the young and impressionable apes, born after their parents were liberated, and the apes who experienced unfathomable pain and torture at the hands of humans. Contrasting Caesar and Koba is to understand what the film has to say. Caesar was brought up in a loving, nurturing environment and it was only after he was abandoned that he hatches a plot to regain the freedom he once had. Alternatively, Koba spent most of his life in a lab being poked, prodded and mistreated. Where Koba sees human treachery as a natural part of their personalities, Caesar prefers to see their brighter, more noble side.

In the course of the film, Caesar discovers that even apes may succumb to the callous, conspiratorial personalities of humans and that while there are good humans, there are just as many bad ones and that diplomacy cannot always be the answer when combatting a foe that has spent centuries learning to distrust and combat anything which targets their ways of life. We learn that peace has its place, but so does war and while warmongers will always threaten to destroy that which the peacekeepers have built, it’s the peacekeepers who have tasted the sweetness of true freedom who recognize that to achieve peace, then those who oppose it must be stopped.

For those who are expecting more than just a thought-provoking science fiction film exploring the notion of peace, prosperity and the dangers of blind trust, there is plenty of tense action, exciting narrative developments and triumphal moments to keep them entertained. However, it’s what this picture has to say about human nature and the human condition that makes it rise of above its contemporaries at the crowded Summer box office.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Visual Effects
Probables: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Potentials: Makeup & Hairstyling
Review Written
August 11, 2014


Add a Comment
  1. absolutely amazing, breathtaking film ! ….. I would say Production Design and Giacchino’s score have Oscar potential too, no? Also the writing was stunning.

    1. I’ll admit I don’t really remember the score, which could be a problem if Oscar voters are the same way. Production Design I could see. The problem is that it’s a sequel to a film that only got one Oscar nomination.

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