Wow, just wow. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes ended, I was genuinely curious where they would go from there and what followed was everything I could have reasonably hoped from a sequel and then some. And I’m done. Thank you! Good night, everybody! Kidding, kidding, kidding.
Rebooting Planet of the Apes was going to be a little tricky because even though nuclear war bringing about the end of human civilization would do the trick, it might be a little too Cold War to really resonate with this generation. Also, let’s be honest, the apes getting smart so quickly because they were first pets and then laborers was a bit of a leap. Also Tim Burton tried to do the origins and the established ape civilization all in one movie and that might have been trying to do too much given the run time. Since most people already know the big twist about the planet, to back and establish the origins of the ape civilization and fall of man was good idea. This plot point also requires the biggest suspension of disbelief so guiding the audience through it makes going along with the inevitable film with an astronaut getting chased by monkeys much easier.
Some ten years after the events of the previous film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows Caesar and his tribe of ape followers living the good life in the woods where they’ve built shelter, raise their young, and seem to have adopted a few ideas from their experiences with humans. You might recognize several members of Caesar’s circle of advisors from Rise. They’ve also had a reprieve after their big battle in the previous film because the humans were too busy getting wiped out by the same retrovirus which gave them a brain boost. The film actually starts with a sequence which breaks down events from a human perspective and while I understand the use of real world people to give these kinds of scenes, I tend to think these ultimately date a film. Insert joke about explaining to the kids that Bill Clinton didn’t have to deal with the alien threat of Jodie Foster’s dad.
As it turns out, not all of humanity was wiped out and they have been scrambling to put things back together as best they can. In another development, an important relic of the past that the neighboring human outpost needs to get back on their feet is situated in ape territory and from there things start to snowball. One point the movie deserves praise for is that nobody starts off as a cartoonish villain, and each side is largely sympathetic. Even that one guy you are going to hate with a passion does stupid things because of bitterness and genuine fear of the apes. The apes are the stars of the movie, but the human side gets the most sympathetic and fleshed out depictions that these kinds of movies have and you don’t get them rubbed in your face (eat it, Transformers and Godzilla). You need to see it for yourself, but the movie gets damn near Shakespearean… or Game of Thrones… with monkeys.
The advertising on the internet plays heavily on the apes with guns thing because the lowest common denominator and intense action sequences were required to get funding. Action is shot and staged very well, but the thing which stood out the most to me was the fact character development didn’t get shut off because they needed an action scene and screw context. There was one scene where a lesser movie would have had a minor character blindly obey, while Dawn shows the character taking a principled stand which then leads to a major development. “Masterful” is the word which comes to mind in describing how well made this movie is.
On the technical side of things, the motion capture acting was top notch and the CG is fantastic in that the illusion never gets broken and you are reminded that it’s just an effect. The theaters seem to be pushing the 3D version really hard, and while the film has been shot very well I never got the impression that the 3D really added anything. Then again, I generally set the 3D to “off” on my 3DS because I’m pretty sure it’s just ruining my eyes for little effect.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie I’ve been able to enjoy without qualifiers. I’m afraid to call it perfection, but I genuinely unable to think of any substantive flaws in this movie. The funny thing is that this movie covers the same general timeframe as Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the second worst sequel in the original series. My gut tells me this will easily be one of the best movies of 2014, and if we’re lucky it’ll open the door for more fantastical films which want to be about something rather than an excuse for effects and explosion porn. As before, I’m wondering where the franchise might go from here, and I sincerely think any future installments will be something special as well.