Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of the best surprises of 2011, a smart blockbuster with an incredible central performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar.  Set 10 years later, Ape society is flourishing in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes but a war with nearby humans might be inevitable.

Andy Serkis, somehow, is even more incredible this time around as Caesar.  He’s one of the most fleshed out and interesting characters, definitely of this summer and probably of the last few years.  What’s even more miraculous is that most of his character is conveyed through sign language and facial expressions but because of Serkis’ motion capture and the amazing CG, you never have a single doubt about what Caesar is thinking and feeling.  The other apes are just as fleshed out and interesting, especially Koba, who was the chimp from Rise who was tortured in the Gen-Sys labs prior to being freed by Caesar.  Koba goes through probably the biggest character arc and balances out Caesar’s desire for peace with his quest for revenge against humans.  Maurice the Orangutan returns as well, now the teacher of the young chimps and an advocate of peace with humans as well.  New characters include Caesar’s son, Blue Eyes, who is torn between following his father or joining Koba against the humans.  The human characters, will not as interesting as the apes, are still some of the best characters of the summer, compared to the human characters in Godzilla (except Bryan Cranston, obviously) and especially the recent Transformers.  Gary Oldman is kind of a cookie cutter villain, basically a more sympathetic Governor from The Walking Dead but Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Codi Smit-McPhee are all great as a family brough together in the wake of Simian Flu and the movie does a great job of showing how similar Clarke and Caesar are.  Both want to protect their families but both also need to worry about the good of all of their people and try to maintain the peace.  Honestly though, if the movie was just completely set in Ape society, I would be fully invested due to the depth of character and relationships on display.

Dawn isn’t the most action packed blockbuster this summer, with only one massive battle in the third act as it’s big set piece and a final battle on top of a tower that is collapsing, both of which are spectacular.  I would probably classify it more as a drama than an action movie, as the first half is building character and relationships but that’s all incredibly interesting.  There are so many great moments of understanding and friendship building between Jason Clarke’s family and Caesar’s family that when things spiral out of control in the third act, the stakes are incredibly high and it’s gut wrenching seeing the violence when everything was so close to be resolved peacefully.  There’s political intrigue as well with Koba beginning to become disillusioned by Caesar and gathering a small band of followers to attack the nearby human city in the ruins of San Fransisco.    The only nitpick is that the movie does drag in some parts and it’s a little long at 2 1/2 hours.

If you’re looking for a smart, interesting summer blockbuster, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a must watch.  It’s definitely one of the best movies of the summer and of the year.  If you liked Rise, Dawn will blow you away with it’s even more incredible motion capture performances and more interesting story.

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