A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.
When I first watched the original Planet of the Apes (1968), I was instantly fixated with talking apes who are the dominant species. I loved it, it was such a wild idea but so original and fascinating. From the story to the characters to the practical sets, every thing was a winner. From that, a franchise was born that is still going 40 years later. When the thought of a reboot was announced, the skepticism rose and rose. Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, everyone thought it was going to flat-out suck and be nothing like what the originals brought. Well everyone was wrong. It not only brought back those elements everyone loved from the originals, but brought something completely new and fresh to this storied franchise. It wasn’t just a great movie, it became a kick-starter for a franchise that can be mind-blowing for many movies to come.
Now Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes and everyone wanted something just as good as its predecessor. From the story to trailers, the movie looked like it would live up to Rise. Well, we were given something better in every singe way. As this movie picks up almost a decade after the first, almost the entire human civilization is killed off by the Simian Flu, whereas the Apes civilization is thriving and growing each day. Neither has seen each other for years now, but one moment changes everything for both side.
Tons of people were a bit iffy on the plot of the movie when it first comes out. Picking up almost a decade later after the first? Come on. I for one loved it, it’s a fabulous spot to pick up on. The Human population has decreased to a maximum and the Apes have been thriving and building a (phenomenal looking) civilization of their own in the Redwoods. Seeing how Reeves used the first act of the movie to show these Apes, how they’ve grown and now live, it was so beautifully done. And instead of these two species finding each other and going to all out war to be the dominant species, it’s a perfectly done steady build up to a climax that will leave you breathless and again become a kick-starter for future movies.
After having Rupert Wyatt do the first, but not come back for the sequel – it left everyone in question, can the replacement keep this story going? Matt Reeves doesn’t have a ton of big movies to his resume, but that doesn’t matter anymore now that Dawn is out. This wasn’t just some big summer blockbuster where we get to see apes on horses (greatest thing EVER) fighting against human survivors to become the dominant species, this movie had heart and depth to it. Yeah we got the action and intestity, but we also got those emotional moments where we start to feel for these characters (ape and human). Reeves continued what Wyatt started, but at the same time bringing some fresh air. The films pace was perfect, his direction for the movie was outstanding, and his direction for the characters was flawless – the stand out of the movie was easily what Reeves and his actors were able to do for the characters. But maybe the most important thing for the film, Reeves was able to balance the action and drama equally – never having the tension leave the screen.
Back as Caesar is Andy Serkis, and boy is he back better than ever. This is by far my favorite performance from Serkis (live-action and mo-cap). Many people may not notice, but I could cleary see Serkis in Caesar’s face. The eyes, the facial expressions, the emotion that was brought to the character (an Ape by he way), was honestly some of the best I’ve ever seen. Serkis took Caesar to a whole new level, bringing a sympathetic, very strong, and sometimes scary Ape Leader to life. Alongside Serkis was Toby Kebbell as Koba. Now this guy is good. We all think Serkis is the mo-cap guy, there’s no one better or near him. Well, Kebbell just showed why he’ll be a player in this game for a long time. His performance was so damn powerful and scary, it was so effective and just fascinating to watch because it was the total opposite of Serkis’ Caesar. Many think that these guys are just voicing for CGI Apes, these actors are actually acting just like everyone else. They are there on set (in mo-cap suits) acting alongside everyone else in these scenes. When Caesar and Koba are together, the chemistry (good or bad) between these two keeps you completely and 100% invested through the entire movie – making it the one thing you want to see over and over again.
The movie isn’t just about Apes though, it has some very good and strong human characters as well. After the surprisingly awesome performance from James Franco in the first, it was only time to up the anti. Taking over the human lead is Jason Clarke who pays Malcolm, a human survivor leader. Yeah he acted a lot alongside other human characters (we all know how good that will be), but the spotlight shined on every scene he had along side Serkis’ Caesar. How connected Franco’s character and Caesar were in the first one, we didn’t know if we’d get another like that. This was just as good, even a little bit better. The performance was so authentic and driven by the fact that these Apes are just like them, survivors. Clarke’s character was the bridge between two species, trying to bring them together instead of having war. As the movie went on, I kept wanting to see Malcolm and Caesar on screen together. Seeing these two leaders stand together was incredible, it was one of the strongest points of the movie.
More amazing humans are Gary Oldman and Keri Russell. We all know what we”ll get from Oldman, a fantastic role that will do anything to save the human race. Keri Russell was a great positive for me, almost a woman version of Clarke’s character. Like Malcolm is a great balance for Caesar, Ellie is a great balance for Malcolm. Keeping him strong and to keep believing in what he believes in.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn’t just any old summer blockbuster, it’s a rare unpredictable blockbuster that keeps you on the edge of your seat for 130 minutes. You think it’s going one way, but then flips a 180 and goes the other way – keeping you guessing each time around. A monumental piece of cinema that not only lives up to it’s predecessor, but exceeds it in every way possible. Many have been saying that this movie is what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars, well I will back that up and say this is exactly that and then some. It’s hard to believe, I know, but I have no doubt you will walk out of the theater absolutely floored with what you were able to just watch. Because when you thought sequel blockbusters couldn’t evolve anymore than they have, in rides Apes on Horses becoming the best of the franchise to date. One last thing – Hail Caesar!
Post script: If Andy Serkis does not get an Oscar Nomination for his performance as Caesar, the Academy will be making a huge mistake.