July 14, 2014
I went to watch this film with very high expectations. There was so much acclaim in all these initial reviews that have come out. Everyone extols it as THE best film of this summer. My sons and I went to watch it even if the only screening we can watch at that time was in more expensive 3D. This 3D turned out to be unnecessary, but this film is deserving of all its advanced praise.
The story of "Dawn" picks up ten years after the events of the first film "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Simian flu we saw developed and spread in the first film has now all but decimated most of the human population. In the forests, the mutant apes have established their own system, led by the alpha male ape Caesar.
When a group of survivors enter the forest in order to reactivate an old dam for their energy needs, they meet the apes' wrath. There arose a battle of loyalty, trust and betrayal in both the human and the ape organizations, escalating into a deadly battle royale in the post-apocalyptic streets of San Francisco.
For a summer blockbuster rich in computer-generated visual effects, "Dawn" is actually a very serious film. The first two acts had more words (many of them written in subtitles) than action, and may make some of the younger viewers impatient. The final act is an action spectacle that will undoubtedly be long remembered for its graphic yet epic images of ape vs. human warfare.
This sequel is really more about the apes than the humans. The humans were delimited to playing one-dimensional characters with hardly any back story. The lead human character Malcolm, who was assigned to lead the dam repairs, was played by Jason Clarke. He went on his mission with his doctor second wife Ellie (Keri Russell) and his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The leader of the human settlement is Dreyfus, played by Gary Oldman. You will hate him for what he is saying, but upon reflection, that is really typical human behavior that he represents.
But the apes were a different matter. They were all so well-delineated. Each face was different and all so expressive. The actors behind each ape deserve special mention for managing to evoke emotion from beneath make-up and motion capture technology. Tony Kebbel was effectively tragic as the tortured Koba. That scene where he points to his scars and saying "human work!" is heartbreaking. Karin Konoval (a female!) is a calming presence as the intellectual orangutan Maurice. Nick Thurston captured the inner turmoil of Caesar's eldest son Blue Eyes. Above all, there was the amazing Andy Serkis as Caesar, the quintessential leader of the apes. This is indeed an award-deserving performance.
That is not to say that this film was absolutely perfect. There were some aspects which puzzled me. There seems to be so much more being written in the subtitles than what the apes were signing or gesturing on screen. The seriously dilapidated dam seemed to have been repaired so quickly, and the antibiotic given Caesar's dying wife seemed to have worked miraculously overnight. I know that that scene where Caesar was back in the house of his old friend and trainer Will (James Franco) was nice and sentimental. But it strains logic that a long-abandoned video camera would still have two bars in its battery life. In the bigger scheme of things though, these are minor quibbles.
You should go into this film NOT as you would go into a typical summer blockbuster film. You should have a proper frame of mind before you watch this. This film is not fun, entertaining, nor uplifting. Instead this is dark, thought-provoking and disturbing. There is no denying though that this film is a technological triumph in the area of visual effects, sound effects, film editing, musical scoring, cinematography and its effective direction under Matt Reeves. 9/10.