“Dawn” is a fitting word to describe the second installment of the Planet of the Apes films. Whether it’s the transition from ignorance to understanding, or the state of light invading darkness and alternatively the resistance of darkness to light, all are explored throughout director Matt Reeves’ excellent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
The film is introduced with a quick montage of information explaining what has happened since the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In nearly ten years, a deadly virus has spread, killing off a majority of humanity and leaving the world in anarchy and violence. The apes escaped into the woods outside of San Francisco and have created a colony led by the advanced Caesar (Andy Serkis). A small group of disease-immune humans remain in the city, though they are without power and low on fuel resources. The humans, desperate for electrical power, invade ape territory and are met with resistance by Caesar and company.
Malcolm (Jason Clarke) plays a father and the subsequent leader of the journey into ape territory to save his group of surviving humans. Malcolm and the powerful Caesar are basically the same character, leading hope for their communities though they are mostly trying to make a better life for the family they have. Seeing them on two different sides of battle makes for an interesting dichotomy. Caesar loves humans, being raised by a human father figure (James Franco in “Rise”) and allowed to live in the same environment as them. Malcolm has seen the worst in humanity and finds the apes “remarkable” in their advancements.
Both men are from worlds filled with fear and hatred for each other. In scenes were Caesar and Malcolm interact, there is mutual respect and most importantly for both, trust. The trust between Caesar and Malcolm is met with hostility by both sides, but especially from Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar’s hostile second-in-command. Koba was an experiment when captive, sliced and cut for the benefit of science. Koba wants revenge and Reeves builds towards the inevitable altercation against Caesar with exceptional tension. These small moments of interaction, both physical and psychological, give depth to the narrative.
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes composed reflections of the social and political tensions of the time. “Dawn” also echoes this theme, however in a darker perspective. The future here has been consumed by hatred that continues the prevention of resolution and humanity’s response to “difference” evokes chaos; a societal outlook that proposes the outcome of continued discrimination and intolerance.
Andy Serkis may not be the most recognizable name, or face, but his contribution to film performance has been nothing short of remarkable the last decade. Contributing performances through CGI that gave life to Kong in King Kong and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, Serkis brings brilliant emotional content to these digital characters. His composition of Caesar is both sympathetic and powerful, a performance impressive to watch. The remaining cast, both human and ape, also contributes finely to the film. The use of non-verbal expressions to communicate relationships between characters gives the cast plenty to work with, even in very limited roles for some of the actors.
It’s rare for a summer blockbuster to propose thought provoking subject matter amidst the bombardment of action extravagance and forced development. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is both highly entertaining, action packed, and provocative, a credit to Matt Reeves asking more from what is ultimately a genre film.
Movie Score: 4/5