‘Dawn’ of the Summer’s Best Blockbuster

2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a surprise blockbuster that deftly blended summer thrills along with an emotional weight in its lead character.

Furthermore, it gave new life to the famed “Planet of the Apes” franchise, where the planned prequel series would eventually build up to the events of the original 1968 film.

After the success of “Rise,” the pressure was on for a sequel to carry the Caesar saga to new heights. Thankfully, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” rises (pun intended) above its predecessor, and injects more layers to the prequel series’ growing universe.

Ten years after the events in “Rise,” the Simian Flu has taken the lives of millions, and has also led to a complete collapse of human society.

Just outside of San Francisco, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the leader of a large community of apes, all of whom live in solitude.

Their peacetime however, is broken when a small group of humans encounter them when searching for a dam that can help generate electricity for the guarded tower community they live in. This causes a rigid coexistence between apes and humans that becomes a ticking time bomb ready to blow up into an act of war.

Andy Serkis is unlike any actor in this present era of film, as he has mastered the art of motion capture acting. As Caesar, he delivers yet another fantastic performance where he expertly channels the mannerisms and physical emotions of a real ape.

Even though motion capture acting has been shied upon by the Academy, he is at least deserving of a special achievement award for his sublime acting in this field.

Starring as Caesar’s second-in-command, Koba, Toby Kebbell is also quite great in playing an ape that abhors all humans, which was a result of him being abused and experimented upon by the scientists at Gen-Sys in “Rise.”

Koba is a finely crafted villain, because he has zero remorse for any of his violent actions. His hatred for both humans and Caesar’s varying compassion towards them leads him towards a path of power-hungry madness that is certain to make you hate him.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Like “Rise,” the human characters embody types that have certainly been done before, but they are played well by the actors that portray them. Jason Clarke particularly stands out in his role as Malcolm, a member of the remaining survivor community that courageously establishes a bond with Caesar. Clarke embodies the right amount of nuance and vulnerability in his role that makes his character extremely like-able.

In what has been prevalent throughout the series as a whole, themes are established in “Dawn” that allegorize to the real world. Conflict is the biggest one, where both the apes and humans eventually clash over the differing views of each other’s ideology on society and coexistence. Furthermore, the build-up of the conflict is surprisingly two-sided, being explored equally on both sides.

In addition, various characters are written into the film to define important traits, most notably contempt. In the film, someone that is extremely ignorant on the terms that everyone in one group is the same displays contempt. On the ape side, Koba is the one that shares this view on humans, while a member of the human colony, Carver, points this trait toward the apes, all of which clash in ironic fashion.

Director Matt Reeves employs a sleek style to the film’s narrative, especially in his use of camera techniques during the biggest action sequences.

Taking a page out of Alfonso Cuarón’s book of direction from “Children of Men,” Reeves constructs one astute long tracking shot where the camera assumes the motion of a rotating tank turret, and another that follows Jason Clarke’s character through a building in the midst of an ape revolt taking place around him.

Last and most importantly, Weta Digital deserves a huge amount of praise for continuing to evolve their groundbreaking visual effects work. The brilliant design team has made the apes look even more detailed and realistic than in “Rise,” and for also creating a well-structured portrayal of post-apocalyptic San Francisco.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is quite simply one of the best blockbusters in recent memory, as it is one that deftly blends exciting thrills with well-realized universal themes.

Even though the ending screams for another sequel (spoiler alert: there will be a third film), I won’t lie when I say that I really look forward to what comes next.

 

RECOMMENDED: A great blockbuster with brains, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” continues to build upon the already exciting prequel series of films.