The first film in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise was a surprise hit. Few people were looking forward to it. I even remember a Darth Vader Twitter account saying he can’t wait for Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be released so the prequel Star Wars films won’t be the worst prequels of all time. Man was he wrong. It gained an 82% from Rotten Tomatoes and was my biggest surprise and personal favorite film of 2011. The sequel doesn’t have the luxury of going under the radar anymore, audiences are expecting a great film even though Rise director Rupert Wyatt is not returning. Can it live up to the hype as the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise or does it disappoint?
Replacing Wyatt is Cloverfield director Matt Reeves and he does an even better job than Wyatt did with the first film. From the opening shot I was hooked and nearly crying 4 minutes in. The dark and realistic tone of the film takes a toll on the audience’s emotions because it does not seem cartoony. Reeves helps build on top of Wyatt’s foundation and creates a world that the audience can envision actually happening if this virus did exist. Similar to how Cloverfield depicted a realistic approach to a monster attacking New York City from the resident’s perspective, Reeves takes that to a whole new level. He shows the impact of the growing conflict between apes and humans from both sides of the issue. The political commentary is strong in this summer blockbuster about apes taking over Earth and will have you stop and think twice about daily occurrences that we overlook.
The scenes that deal with the apes before their first interactions with humans are incredibly interesting because it’s the foundation for their new society. The apes’ heightened intelligence has allowed them to become not just a family, but a functioning community striving for a better future. Just like the human characters in the film, the audience is left in awe at how far the apes have came since the last installment and the human reaction is one that I could very well see being the one we would take in real life. The use of situational irony greatly adds to the themes of the movie because we as the audience know what truly occurred to cause certain events but due to uncontrollable circumstances, things can’t change for the better.
The human characters were surprisingly great. Jason Clarke plays the human protagonist of the film, Malcolm, in a role similar to James Franco’s in the first film. Malcolm and his town are running out of fuel and need to get a dam working again to provide power to the city. The only problem between them and the dam is a tribe of apes. Malcolm is accompanied by Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son Alexander and Keri Russell as Ellie. Back in the city their leader Dreyfus is played brilliantly by Gary Oldman. Each of these actors bring their “A-game” this time around, which pays off since the audience ends up rooting for both races to coexist. This is their chance at peace.
The leader for this movement toward peace is Caesar, the leader of the apes and the protagonist of the rebooted franchise, brought to life by incredible technology and Andy Serkis. His motion capture work brought out so much emotion in me that I was nearly in tears at his inner conflict. The subtlety of his performance truly makes one feel so sorry for him. This is a character with immense pressure on him from political, social, and family issues all at once. He’s responsible for the apes prospering, for a better future, and also without his help the humans will rot away. I know everyone online says it every time Andy Serkis shows up on screen, but his performance is definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination and maybe even a win. He didn’t receive a nomination for his last time playing Caesar and with an improved realization this time around, he should receive one.
But Serkis isn’t the only one worthy of Oscar consideration, I believe Reeves should be considered for Best Director and Michael Seresin for Best Cinematography. The visuals are jaw dropping and there is not a single shot in the movie that didn’t add to my enjoyment of it. The way the camera moves seamlessly during the action sequences is breathtaking all the while conveying the emotion of each character to near perfection. This isn’t your normal action movie, each punch thrown or gunshot fired has weight to it. Each move a character makes has real consequences that will have to be dealt with, something refreshing to see when most summer blockbusters are made just for entertainment purposes, it has substance. This film goes for it all and deserves major academy award consideration.
Once in while, a movie comes out that can be considered a game changer for cinema. The latest example of that was The Dark Knight back in 2008 when it became a smash hit but was snubbed for Best Picture. Movies today are considered Pre-Dark Knight and Post-Dark Knight, just like movies are considered Pre-Jurassic Park and Post-Jurassic Park. The Dark Knight changed the comic book genre into being taken more seriously and Jurassic Park revolutionized the use of special effects in a way to not detract from the plot and themes of the film. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes accomplishes both of these, giving new credibility to the science fiction summer blockbuster while also blending the actor’s performances with CGI to create a masterpiece. It rises past it’s predecessor to the point that it can one day be considered in the same vein as the previously mentioned greats. A few years from now the movie going audience will look back at July 11, 2014 as the day that bridged the Pre-Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Post-Dawn of the Planet of the Apes eras of science fiction summer blockbusters.