In a summer that has provided more disappointments than any in recent memory, there’s a kind of twisted logic behind the best movie of the summer being one from which I expected nothing at all. That’s right. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn’t just a good sequel or a good entry in the series. It’s a great film that is mandatory viewing for film fans this summer.
I expected nothing from the film in the months leading up to it largely because I didn’t like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I thought the vaunted CGI looked fake, I’m not fond of James Franco’s acting abilities and it just all seemed a shamble to me, though I could see the potential for something cool in it.
You do not need to see Rise to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The film stands on its own. It certainly gives those who saw Rise some fan service and a section of the film is much more poignant if you have seen Rise, but this is a film that can stand on its own.A very clever opening sequence establishes where the world is in the years since the climactic battle at the end of Rise. A simian flu pandemic has decimated the world. Humans are living in near tribal conditions. In other words, they’re on fairly equal footing with the apes.
We’re introduced to the society that Caesar has established in the forests near San Francisco. It’s an amazing art production feat and totally believable as a living, breathing habitat. Also completely convincing this time around are the apes. Not for one second did anything look remotely CGI or fake. The apes are so nuanced that picking apart the different ones is never an issue. Andy Serkis has reached new heights with Casesar. I would put him right up there with Gollum for the greatest CGI character of all-time. Gollum never had to carry an entire film, while in this film, Caesar is the star. This is his movie and his story. Serkis has taken motion capture performance and turned it from a special effects trick into a new way for actors to inhabit and create indelible characters. His Caesar is complex, fierce, noble and just. You see why all the apes follow him. Serkis, himself, comes through in the character more so than in any of his performances before. The level of nuance, emotion and delivery he imbues Caesar with is phenomenal. If the year ended today, I’d argue Serkis for Best Actor.Also worthy of note is the mo-cap performance turned in by Toby Kebbell as Caesar’s unstable lieutenant, Koba. In addition to showing his own chops with bringing characters to life in the “Serkis Method”, Kebbell provides a layered character to serve as a counterpoint to Caesar.Jason Clarke leads a team of workers into the forest after an opening skirmish with the apes and gains Caesar’s permission to repair the dam in their territory which is providing power to the human settlement. While Clarke and Caesar try to find common ground and are struck by the similarities between their two peoples, Gary Oldman’s character is urging the annihilation of the apes as Koba urges Caesar to mete out the same to the humans. It’s a slow burn of tension between these societies until a startling twist provides the excuse necessary for the inevitable.It’s almost Shakespearean, two courts, two kings, treacherous advisers, voices of reason and tragic war. When it comes, the war isn’t an OH WOW special effects extravaganza, it’s a tragic waste of life as most wars are. The film ends with a clear next chapter in store and I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I’m counting the days until I can get back into this world.I could nitpick a few things about the film, but I’m so impressed with it overall, that I don’t even want to bother. This film finally delivers summer movie goers with something worthy of their time and money. It provides great spectacle but also great story and pathos. In terms of the Apes films, I would rank it only behind the original. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the must-see picture of summer 2014.