Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel to 2011 film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which itself is a reboot of the Apes franchise from back in the late 60s. It tells a very different origin story to how the apes came to become intelligent and take over the Earth. The tone, characters and technology used between the two franchises are as different as the original King Kong and the Peter Jackson remake, so it's almost unfair to draw a comparison. Also, I think very few people reading this blog would have watched the original franchise so it's probably not worth the effort to reference the original story.
I have to admit upfront that I was not feeling well when I watched this film, so I didn't catch every single detail. My poor friend who braved the winter rain to watch this with me had to suffer my restlessness for most of the runtime!
Anyway onto the film.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (shortening it to DPA for remainder of article) is an unusual film as it focuses almost entirely on the apes themselves. I compare this film to Jurassic Park, which I believe had the theatrical sweet-spot of how much dinosaur we saw as a ratio to the humans' screen time. DPA spends a very, very disproportionate amount of time focusing on the apes themselves, which, while expected for a film about apes, is a daring decision as it may turn off your typical moviegoer and thus reduce its box office performance. Basically, there isn't some half-naked Megan Fox or Taylor Lautner that provides eye candy. No. This film attempts to earn your attention through its characters and story.
A small colony of surviving humans settled in the nearby city, and due to the apes' home being intertwined with their means of survival, the apes and humans must decide whether they can coexist or is war the inevitable option.
The theme of the movie is one that may put most at unease, as it preaches a very cynical view of humanity, showing the ugly nature of survival and how diversity of personality and beliefs in a community is both an opportunity and a threat. No matter what how you write the law there will and must be exceptions. But for a film with no easy appeal, it does grow on you by the 30 minute mark, and towards the end you already forget that they are apes and see them as compelling characters drawn from 17th century literature.
Half the dialogue between the apes are done through sign language instead of spoken, and when they do speak, there are no wasted words. At first this was a bit strange, but as time passed I sort of learned to appreciate it. Some of the apes can speak English, but it is a second language to them, which is only included in their curriculum because of Caesar's reminiscence to his old life and friend (who presumably died during the epidemic).
However this is where the film does frustrate me. It so successfully normalised the apes on the screen, but beyond that point, the characters themselves are actually somewhat straightforward. The story has some elements of Hamlet and Pocahontas, and quite a number of cliche side characters (both humans and apes). They are present in the film to serve a function, which feels a bit deliberate but not contrived. It doesn't hurt my enjoyment of the film, but it did conjure up some unpleasant parallels to Captain America 2; there are no surprises on what is going to happen and who is going to die/not die.
I haven't mentioned about the quality of the CGI work. The reason is simple; it worked so well that I didn't even notice it. Unlike Transformers where everything is about impressing the audience with technical marvel, throwing thousands of renders of sophisticated 3D models at you, rather than using the imagery to tell a story. This film is about the story, and everything else is used to help tell this story, which means the CGI did its job just fine.
So overall, I do quite like DPA. It is a great role reversal story that is anything but apathetic about its own world. It teaches sympathy and understanding for the needs of others, but also shows both the preciousness and fragility of peace; how one small action can so easily break the status quo and lead to war. While occasionally the film does reek of Hollywood by anchoring itself with some overused archetypes, at least it does it masterfully, which is all I ask for in most films.
It is the best film about apes that has come out in my lifetime, and I would recommend this film to any lover of Shakespearean literature or Andy Serkis. Seriously, that man deserves an Oscar.
8.0 / 10.0