A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier.
Year 3, Film #5
THE GOOD: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes exceeds its prequel’s strengths in more ways than one. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an extremely successful reboot of the Apes franchise largely in part due to the big focus on the apes point of view instead of just humans. Dawn continues this focus with much of the film, especially the beginning, taking place solely in the forest with Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow primates. The most interesting thing about seeing things from the apes point of view is to see the strong similarities with humans. This point is brought up in Dawn and is explored much more than in Rise. It’s not just a story about humans vs. apes but a story about good vs. bad and how these qualities are inherent in all living beings. Some people do what’s right and some don’t, and the same with the apes. And what’s so great about Dawn and the rest of this rebooted franchise is to see the fight happen inter-species rather than just intra-species.
As with Rise, the part that deserves the most recognition in Dawn is the performances coming from the apes. Andy Serkis gives an Oscar-worthy performance, one that should be recognized with at least a nomination this year. Serkis carries this film much more than the human cast or the rest of the ape cast. It’s not just his uncanny ability to portray an ape in such a humanistic way, but the effect it has on you as a viewer. An Oscar for Best Actor shouldn’t be given just to someone who can portray and actor out of their wheelhouse, but to a good performance in general. Serkis doesn’t just do a good job at playing an ape, he delivers a performance that’s above and beyond many others. When things get really serious, especially towards the end, you can see the emotions coursing through him, all the subtle movements in his eyes and face. The result moves us and gets us invested in the story much more than any average performance would and brings us to another level of engagement in the films events.
Another performance worthy of recognition is Caesar’s teenage son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston). As with Serkis’ performance, you can really see the struggle going on inside him as the film unfolds. While these apes are not humans, the performances given by Serkis, Thurston, and the rest of the cast, reduce the barriers between human and ape and allow us to focus on whether it’s good acting or not. Thurston displays the emotions you would expect from a teenage son wanting to rebel against his father. It doesn’t matter that he is a primate, you only see the rebellious teenager.
In terms of a summer blockbuster, Dawn also delivers. It has the action and suspense you’ve come to expect, but it doesn’t just stop there. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are great additions to the cast and deliver the conflict and fight that drive the film. Malcolm appreciates the apes and understands their position — they just want to survive. Dreyfus on the other hand is looking after the human interests and therefore is very gun- and war-friendly. Also contributing to the conflict is the ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) who represents the war-favored faction of the apes. As I mentioned earlier, Dawn isn’t a film about humans vs. apes, it’s a film about good vs. evil, traits that exist in both sides of the fight and make for a riveting battle which we get to watch many layers unfold.
THE BAD: There isn’t anything really. Any questions or plot holes, if any, are insignificant and you can easily forget about. Looking back, there’s nothing that popped out as problematic, most likely because I was so invested in the story that was taking place I didn’t have time to think about problems. Andy Serkis, Nick Thurston, Jason Clarke, and Gary Oldman all deliver standout performances and are all mentioned above as extraordinary. The rest of the cast may not have been up to the caliber of these fine actors, but they still held their own and helped to carry this film to great heights. The story as well has no faults, or at least, none that stick out. It’s well structured with a beginning, middle, and end that flow well into each other and keep the right level of excitement and engagement maintained throughout. You’re never bored or left wanting more; there’s always something to keep your attention, and better yet, something to keep you invested at a deeper level with what’s taking place on screen.
THE TAKEAWAY: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has all the best parts of a summer blockbuster with the action and suspense, while also having the makings of an Oscar winner for a drama. It’s not as deep or complex as other Best Picture winners are, but compared to Rise and especially compared to any other blockbuster — summer or otherwise — it has the potential and even takes advantage of that in certain places. Acting as well deserves widespread recognition for Dawn. Both humans and apes deliver knockout performances and Andy Serkis is entitled to a nomination if not a win for Best Actor. He was snubbed for his performance in Rise, he needs to get one for Dawn. Performance capture be damned, Serkis delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, plain and simple.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5