War is a remarkably hard concept to portray accurately in fiction. In film’s case, a movie will often clearly let the audience know which side of the feud is good, and which side is evil. This is almost never the case in real life, however. 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (the sequel to 2011’s surprise hit “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) introduces us to a world where Apes thrive and Humans struggle for survival, and the threat of an all out war breaking out between the two groups exists that feels surprisingly very real.
One of the film’s strongest aspects is the way it delicately handles it’s characters and their conflicts. There was never a moment where I was rooting for the humans to beat the Apes, or vice versa. It’s a smart way to tell the story and is what keeps this movie from being just another summer blockbuster. These characters feel so real and layered that it’s hard not to become attached to many of them. My personal favourite characters are Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Caesar’s main conflict is that he was the only ape to see the goodness in humans, whereas all the other Apes only saw their bad side. Because of this, he is shown to have sympathy for the humans, but still keeps his guard up for the protection of his family. Dreyfus is interesting because at first glance, he seems like he would be the villain. But as the film progresses, I started to realize that his intentions were actually very nobel in his eyes. He just wants what’s best for his people, and will sometimes go to extreme measures to do so. Another character I should mention is Koba, who’s one of the apes that Caesar freed in the first movie. Caesar. Again, he seems like he would be the film’s villain, but ultimately, he’s just misguided. And much like Dreyfus and Caesar, wants what’s best for his race, and will also go to extreme measures to achieve this.
The only characters that I thought could have been handled better were the human protagonists. They weren’t terrible, just a little less interesting then the Apes and Dreyfus. I especially found Malcom, Malcom’s son and Ellie to be fairly boring and not very memorable. Despite this, I appreciated how none of the human characters came across as villains. To be fair, there is one guy who causes some problems fro the group and the Apes, but it’s all out of fear.) It’s yet another example of how real and down to earth the film feels. When war is spoken of, it seems to be an act of desperation. The characters in this movie are not black and white, but very human and very relatable. As for the soundtrack, I liked it. It had a very classic Planet of the Apes vibe to it without coming across as too cheesy.
As for the Apes, what can I say? You’ve all heard they look amazing and honestly they really really do. Their movements are pretty spot on (if a little too fluid at times) And when it comes to the facial expressions and the way they interact with one another, the motion capture truly shines. I loved the use of sign language the Apes had with one another. It was to fascinating to watch it made me want to learn how to speak it. And when Caesar finally does speak english…it sent chills down my spine. There is a lot more english spoken by the Apes this time around then in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I thought it was handled well. I’ve noticed that CGI has been very impressive this year, from Electro’s epic abilities in the Amazing Spider-man 2, to the sheer might and power of the Kaiju in Godzilla, to the convincing Apes in this. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s leaps and bounds beyond anything I’ve seen in something like Lord of the Rings or the more recent Hobbit films (Which Andy Serkis also appeared in as Gollum), but regardless, this is a fine example of how special effects can complement the story.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is bleak, intense and thought provoking. It’s not afraid to show the harsh consequences of violence and war, and the majority of the characters feel very real. I know it’s been said before, but I could really see Andy Serkis getting an oscar for his winning performance as Caesar. It’s the cream of the crop of the planet of the Apes franchise, as well as one of the must-see movies of the summer.