My 2014 Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (#14)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a movie that exceeded my expectation a couple years ago. I was, and still am, unfamiliar with the original Planet of the Apes films, but was blown away by its rebooted counterpart. And for all these years after seeing that film, I’ve been patiently waiting to see where they can possibly go from there. Moreover I was hoping the sequel could somehow surpass this great movie. Dawn ended up being that better movie- slightly but surely.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to the 2011 Planet of the Apes reboot. Taking place a couple years later, the mutagen has taken over the world and killed most of the human population. Adversely, the apes have grown smarter are now becoming the more prominent species. A percentage of the human population has proven immune to the specimen and live in colonies, squandering for resources but surviving nonetheless. Meanwhile the apes live peacefully among themselves, holding a code of loyalty to all apes.

One day a band of humans search the woods for resources when they come across the apes for the first time. When they report back to their human colony, the citizens receive the information with disbelief until the apes, lead by Caesar from the first movie, arrive. Caesar makes it a point that the two species must be separated to avoid war with each other. Amidst a power crisis, the human leader sends another group to negotiate with the apes to allow the building of a dam. Caesar agrees and now must try to coexist with the humans temporarily.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was an excellent work of film through and through. Where can you possibly start with a film like this?

I guess I’ll start with writing. For a film called “Planet of the Apes” this is a pretty deep and well-written film. This isn’t just some action film with a forced story as some may initially dismiss it as. This film is only an action movie during the last third. The majority of the film is spent analyzing the human condition and comparing it to one of our close specie relatives.

The general theme of the movie is whether or not the ape culture when matched with humanlike intellect is capable of being better than the human species. Say the human’s take a step down on the dominance chain, is human nature flawed. You see two sides of the argument more notably with Caesar and Koba. Caesar has experienced the loving side of human nature while Koba knows them for their cruelty. And both perspectives have shaped how the apes live.

Even Caesar knows what humans are capable of and makes a constant effort throughout the film to both be like the humans but unlike the humans at the same time. Their community is based on loyalty and peace among all apes; in the words of Caesar, “Ape no kill ape”. Caesar begins the film feeling his system is superior to that of the humans, but upon interacting with his human guests starts to realize they aren’t too different after all. And this revelation is epitomized by the film’s latter events.

The point is that Dawn (my shortened version of the title) has an incredibly thought-out and compelling narrative. Furthermore the screenplay and script are well done, even when dealing with the apes’ dialect. Some may be turned off by the use of subtitles for many ape dialogue scenes, but they aren’t as longwinded and monotonous as you’d think. Even if you aren’t accustomed to reading foreign films I think you should be fine here. After all, the monkeys do talk as well.

Acting is well-done from everybody. The apes have incredible voice work going for them. Caesar is voiced by Andy Serkis, who provides an epically deep voice; and yet he is still able to pack a large range of emotion and wisdom in his performance. In fact, all of the voice performers do a great job with that. The humans also gave great performances. Granted, their particular personalities are hard for (at least me) to remember long-term, but Jason Clarke, Ellie Russell and Gary Oldman’s performances stand out in my mind nonetheless.

Now for the visual effects which will lead into the action. Hands-down and not a single person can take this away from Dawn, these are the best effects of the year. The CGI used in this film is seamless and perfect. It sounds cliché to say “I really thought the apes were actually there” but I freaking mean it this time! The apes are so realistic that I immediately forget that Caesar isn’t really talking to Malcolm. I’m talking Sméagol levels of realism.

I’m really hoping this film wins that Oscar for Best Visual Effects. It earned it in spades!

Then you have the action scenes, which when matched with the already great-looking ape models are a recipe for pure awesomeness. Anyone who has ever witnessed the way a monkey or ape fight knows that they brutal in combat. They’re blunt, powerful, persistent and manic creatures. You simply don’t mess with an ape! If you want further proof, this movie will reinforce that semi-loyally. By that I mean that you won’t find apes using weapons like they do here. Other than that, the apes’ choreography is pretty spot-on, making for intense and crazy action sequences.

The movie’s score is also great. It can be calming and serene, but also vengeful and warlike. And they never overdo the music either. Many scenes aren’t accompanied by music, which gives it a very Animal Planet feel. It builds up the emotional tension a bit in scenes.

And of course the traditional production values are present and well-done: camerawork, editing, lighting, etc.

This film is a must-see. I would recommend watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes before seeing this just to give you a bit of background, but it’s not entirely necessary for enjoying the movie. There really isn’t much reason to not watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes at least once. Whether you come for the action or come for the drama, it satisfies anyone’s standards.

View #13 here!

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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