A Story About Apes is a Story About Us
My issues with the having the word ‘dawn’ in the title aside, this film is absolutely spectacular. Mostly because ‘dawn’ is also a synonym for the word ‘rise’, which is present in the 2011 prequel film of this new series, one might get the feeling that this new film is nearly the same as the previous one. Rest assured, it is anything but the same. This film deepens the ideas of the prequel film while delivering an emotionally compelling piece of entertainment that has something profound to say. The film also manages to provide solid summer blockbuster entertainment.
Picking up a decade after the events of the last film, we are reintroduced to an older, wiser Caesar (Andy Serkis), who now leads an entire population of apes in a utopian society separated from human kind. Caesar we see, now has a family and is a member of a largely thriving community of apes. We are let in on just how far the super-intelligent apes have developed, but all of that is threatened when the first humans surface in ape territory after two years of apparent extinction.
Meanwhile, human survivors of the ALZ-112 virus outbreak need access to a hydroelectric dam in order to gain power to sustain their way of life back at the human colony. Malcom (Jason Clarke), a well-meaning human who wishes to coexist with the apes, takes on the task of reasoning with Caesar in the hopes of finding common ground. Of course, there are forces that threaten to destroy any chance for a peace that was already tentative at best between the two sides. Nevertheless, those forces don’t stop either side from attempting to preserve what little they have no matter the cost.
The tension running throughout this film is quite palpable and it almost never lets up. One really feels at every moment, just how fragile the situation between the humans and the apes is and we understand relatively quickly that every action taken by the characters has some consequence that could show itself later on down the line. Director Matt Reeves doesn’t allow viewers to get too comfortable, and that makes for some suspense filled moments. It is Reeve’s steady and consistent hand, as well as the tremendous talent the actors bring to their respective roles that really push this film to its limits, making it the best it could be.
Speaking of acting talent, top mention goes to Andy Serkis of course. No matter what anyone says, this is undoubtedly his movie from start to finish. The man who brought Gollum from The Lord of The Rings trilogy, as well as King Kong to life, proves yet again that he is beyond a master of the motion capture performance. I’ve been saying that there should be an award created for him, as the Academy probably won’t give him an Oscar for his expert portrayal of Caesar. He brings incredible nuance and a strong presence making Caesar just as real as any human actor. He is the soul of this entire film.
Toby Kebbell, who plays one of Caesar’s advisors Koba, is also quite a standout here. We remember from the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, that Koba had been a victim of mistreatment at the hands of the humans for most of his life and based on this, one really believes and understands his motivations for the action he takes that put him at odds with Caesar. Kebbell brings real emotion and weight to the role of Koba, allowing us empathize with him.
The human actors aren’t anything to sneeze at either eventhough it’s clear this is an all ape show. Veteran thespian, Gary Oldman makes the most of what little screen time he is given as the leader of the human colony, Dreyfus. Oldman could literally be given three seconds of screen time and he would make it matter. You would remember his performance. On one hand you could argue that it is a shame that he is a little underutilized, given what a powerful actor he is. You want to see more of him. However, given how the story is set up, I am ultimately okay with the fact that he wasn’t around for more time. Meanwhile, Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke, who decidedly has more screen time than other human characters, is stellar in his turn as Malcom, the human vessel through which we experience the other side of the story.
I must also take a moment to mention Michael Giacchino’s more than fitting musical score. It is the right amount of grandeur and hits all the right notes emotionally. I’ve been a fan of Giacchino’s music since The Incredibles, as well as the television show Lost, and Mission: Impossible 3, to name a few. When I discovered that he also scored this film, my approval rating for the already fantastic score jumped. It is a very strong soundtrack, which does exactly what a score should do for any film and that is enhance the experience with a particular flavor unique to that film.
It is difficult to ignore the ideas this movie presents about how similar we are to apes. Especially when one considers how human the apes are presented to us. Like us, they too have their flaws and like us, they are capable of displaying great love and compassion. Like the 1968 original Planet of the Apes, this film could also be seen as an allegory about the notion of human nature and what it is to be seen and respected for our differences as opposed to being hated and feared for them. The humans and the apes are exactly the same. Both sides really wanted the same things and both sides were willing to do whatever it took to protect what was most dear to them. This movie is the rare summer blockbuster that both entertains and oozes emotion. Definitely one of the more richer offerings to get into this summer. Do see it. You won’t be disappointed.