"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is an exciting, thrilling adventure that presents incredible visual action scenes and complex, morally-rich themes with serious emotional depth. Taking place some time after "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and using a combination of old and new characters and actors, this compelling spectacle adds an extremely solid second installment to the rebooted “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Unlike most sequels, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" may potentially be better than its predecessor, and definitely sets the bar as one of the best summer Hollywood blockbusters thus far.
This film begins with a montage of news reports showing the results of the spread of the ALZ-113 virus that was originally created in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" as a cure for Alzheimer’s but eventually wiped out the majority of the human civilization. At least ten years later, there is only a small population of humans living in San Francisco, and the original ape from the first film, Caesar (Andy Serkis), is now in charge of a genetically-enhanced group of apes living in their created society in the woods nearby. After a while without seeing one another, the humans and the apes have an encounter in the woods and chaos ensues.
A large population of the remaining humans is naturally afraid of the apes and wants to wipe them out, while many of the apes that were raised and mistreated in captivity by humans want to do the same to them. It’s up to Caesar and one of the human leaders, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), to establish a peace agreement in order to avoid causalities on either side. Both sides want to be safe and left alone, and the humans want to use a dam nearby the ape camp to reactivate power in the city. Naturally, with skeptics and disgruntled persons (and apes) on both sides, and a fragile state of peace at best, anything is possible. With enough time, rebellious actions, misunderstandings, and miscommunications, the humans and apes are soon at each other’s throats, fighting to survive.
In this generation of evolved apes, life is very different. The apes now have their own village in the woods with established families and ranks. They are strong, fast, organized, and intimidating, have the ability to ride horses, and can even use weapons. Taught to speak to one another through sign language (subtitles are used for the audience), some of them can actually speak or attempt to form human words using various grunts, noises and sounds. Like any new and growing civilization, their speech becomes progressively clearer and they are soon able to slightly communicate and understand the humans.
With the ability to communicate and understand humans, and giving off the impressions that they can think, feel, and express emotion, the apes and humans are similar in many ways. Both ape and human alike have those who are very threatened by the other side, only see the bad they can do, and want them gone. Likewise, there are those who have compassion for the opposite species, and only want peace. There are many emotional and dramatic encounters with themes of love, trust, friendship, family, survival, power, and greed as we see both sides struggling to do the right thing for themselves or their population.
There is depth and heavy content throughout, but there is also a great deal of impressive computer-generated imagery and special effects. Most importantly is the apes, which are crafted by CGI from human motion capture acting, meaning that the film uses a process of recording the movements of actual actors to capture real expressions, emotions, actions, body parts, etc., that make the animals look as real as possible. Basically, the actors playing the apes wear special suits that capture all the necessary elements, and then this is digitally enhanced to make them look like hairy animals on screen. Aside from how the apes look, there are a variety of special effects used to create epic, explosive, weapon-filled and hand-to-hand battles, intense encounters between humans and apes, apes vs. other apes, and much more.
For sci-fi or serious fiction fans and those who enjoyed the first film, there’s not much to complain about in this sequel. It’s remarkable that for all of the extreme fictional content, the filmmakers have the ability to make the presentation look as believable and life-like as possible. There are a few times when the apes intimidate in almost a scary or frightening sense, as they command power, respect, and even fear from other apes and humans. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" deepens, darkens, complicates, expands, and progresses the franchise in all the best ways and allows the audience to escape for over two hours for a captivating experience.
The film also stars Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Gary Oldman, and more.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. For more of his reviews on WFAA, click here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and when not writing reviews or covering an event, he works in film production. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt.