This week I had the opportunity to screen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Despite my opinion that the previous film would have been better suited to that title (shouldn’t the planet dawn before it rises?) DotPotA was for all intents and purposes a perfect sequel, albeit a little long. I should start off by saying that I “really liked” the first film in the franchise. The performances were heartfelt and the effects were beautiful. You really got to see that Ceasar was dealing with some complicated emotions, and you got to see his ascent into a higher level of intelligence… in other words, you got to see him discovering his sense of self. In DotPotA, those principles are taken to their farthest logical conclusions, as we see Ceaser ten years later and what his world has become. I “loved” this movie.
I would like to begin by saying that without Weta and Andy Serkis, this movie would not be half as compelling as it is. Serkis gives a flawless performance as Ceaser, now grown up with a family of his own, in the overgrown forests surrounding San Francisco’s all-but-empty ruins. I loved that this film centered more around the apes than the humans. The ape characters were compelling, expressive, and well fleshed out. I felt myself drawing parallels between the ape families and my own family experiences, which is what, I believe, the film makers were hoping we would do. The creation of CGI characters so believable and so emotive that I could feel myself relating to them more than the human characters is a feat worth celebrating.
Now… lets get to monkeys on horses with guns.
There are certainly no shortage of hold-your-breath moments in this film. The danger feels real, and the audience is heavily invested in the outcome. The drama unfolds, nail biting and heart rending, as you see what might have been come crashing down in a blaze of fire and ammunition. There are explosions, fire fights, hand to hand combat, and all manner of violence to keep the “action film” feel alive, but its never without a reason. Another huge nod to Weta for showing the ape action in a very real way… seeing the “monkey fights” really makes you appreciate that these are still animals in every sense of the word… its a brutal dichotomy that becomes heartbreaking at times, especially when you get to those parts of the movie designed to show you that their families may in fact be just like yours.
Finally, I would like to give the writers and directors a huge nod for utilizing the first movie in just the right way. They did not overstate the connections to the first film, nor did they ignore them. I haven’t seen a sequel nod so brilliantly to its predecessor in a very long time… maybe ever. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great summer film, full of excitement and brilliant effects, but with enough relatable material that it *should* leave you questioning if your definition of what is “normal” and what is “human” is as accurate as you previously believed. I give it 4.5 sonic screwdrivers, knocking off half for the fact that it felt really long at times, and my glowing recommendation.