In what is easily one of the best sequels ever made, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which for simplicity’s sake will be referred to as Dawn for the rest of this review) serves as a testament to the amazing talent of motion capture (MoCap) actors, in particular Andy Serkis, and the huge strides that have been made in the field of CGI; this film revolves almost completely around the apes, and they look incredibly realistic at times!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes did the unthinkable: it successfully created a prequel for the Apes franchise, and was done so well that a complete reboot of the series was made possible. The first film was thrilling and even a bit frightening at first, and it’s safe to say Dawn is just as exciting to watch, with even more action than the previous film! It retains everything that made the first film so enjoyable, and expands and adds on to it.
For example, one of my favorite features of the first film was its cinematography. The aerial shots in the first film showing the apes escaping and heading towards the city in huge numbers, the angles used to show the apes overlooking the soon-to-be-theirs city, and more are back here and more beautiful than ever. The sheer number of apes has increased tenfold, making them even more intimidating to behold. When Caesar brings his army to the human colony, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Seeing them in droves flying through the trees is equally stunning.
Seeing Caesar slowly gain intelligence, and with it more power, was also fascinating to watch in the first film, and is even more compelling this time around. This is where praise goes out to Andy Serkis. Best known for bringing MoCap to the forefront through his protrayals of King Kong and Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, Andy Serkis has perfected the art, and is now the go-to example of how it should be done. And this is for good reason. When watching Caesar on the screen, it feels so real and so natural, which helps to connect to the character so much more. Serkis does a great job of balancing the ape and human side of Caesar. This time around, Serkis gets to speak as Caesar as well, and though his human words are few, they are unbelievably powerful! Every word carries so much weight, from the softest whisper to the most terrifying scream. But Serkis is just one half of the puzzle, the other half is the incredible CGI team. There are moments when the camera zooms into the apes, and it seems so incredibly real. Every hair seems natural, the texture of the skin looks lifelike; its almost like you’re at a very special zoo exhibit and just looking through the glass. The film revolves around Caesar and the apes, and thanks to the amazing combination of both the talented acting of Serkis and the impressive work of the CGI team, this works incredibly well.
While we are on the subject, the main antagonist of the film, beyond the humans, is Koba, an ape who has always hated humans and doesn’t trust them at all. While his intentions are to save the apes, he goes about it in the worst possible way. I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say that his character is involved in one of the most incredible fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. Props go out to his MoCap actor, Toby Kebbell; just as the few words that Caesar use in the film are powerful, so are Koba’s.
The human actors in this film do a fine job as well. Jason Clarke plays Malcolm the main human protagonist, a good man who wants to help humanity but also does not want to disturb the apes. He and Caesar develop a great chemistry with each other throughout the film, throughout the ups and downs of their interactions. The legendary Gary Oldman is in top form in this film playing Dreyfus, a character desperate to save humanity, no matter what the cost. Keri Russell is always delightful to watch on screen, and the same applies this time with her character Ellie, a compassionate woman who has lost a lot but it has not dampened her spirits; she is a survivor. Kirk Acevedo plays the bitter and impulsive human Carver who doesn’t trust the apes, and because of it he unwillingly sets the pieces in place for the inevitable war between the humans and the apes.
Once that war begins, hold on for an exciting ride! The action scenes in this film are unbelievable, and impressive considering that one half of that army is completely CGI! Seeing apes riding on horses, wielding guns, and screaming is terrifying and intimidating. As stated before, there are so many apes, and seeing all of them rushing in from so many different angles is thrilling. This is again where cinematography comes into play; some great angles and continuous shots show you a different perspective on the war that I haven’t seen in any other film.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS: 10/10
This is one of the most compelling, exciting films I’ve seen in a long time. It took an already fascinating film and took it to the next level, creating one of the best sequels since The Dark Knight. Andy Serkis and his MoCap acting, along with the incredible CGI, make this film about apes seem incredibly realistic, making the impact of the film that much more powerful. If you enjoyed the first film, you will absolutely love this one. Even if you haven’t seen the first one, this is definitely worth seeing in theaters, and you will follow along to the story pretty easily (thanks to a quick intro that briefly recaps the first film).
One note: the 3D was ok, but certainly not the most impressive I’ve ever seen. You will not miss out by watching this movie in regular 2D, but definitely watch it in theaters!