I've been away for quite some time, so I'll make this as brief as possible. In my opinion and in terms of execution and sheer emotional impact, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES deserves most of its praise. It delivers the requisite goods while still managing to be emotionally impacting and even a little surprising in the details (a feat given the story's built-in inevitability). For most, the real question to answer has probably been, "Is it superior to the 2011 film RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES?" Odds are most of you have seen it and formed an opinion of your own, but for me, the answer is a reluctant... no. Why?
Despite the differences in scale and some of the films' intent, the 2011 one still seems more clever, organic and, if I may, believable. If you've read any review of this sequel, then I think you know the film's strengths, so I'll focus on the small number of problems I have which the reviewers I've read so far do not seem to. Just from the trailers, it seems obvious that the sequel's plot deals with two distinct groups which, for different reasons, are at roughly the same stage in their civilization's development - either because they're developing it for the first time (apes) or because they're having to start over (humans). The central question is whether or not each side can take the next steps without their agendas clashing. The first and most basic problem I have is that, at some point fairly early on, I knew pretty much everything of relevance about both sets of characters. That also meant suspecting that it could probably only play out one way and, for the most part, that's what happens.
While there is definitely an effort here, I did not find as many motivational or even emotional nuances as some seem to be attributing to the film. It hinges on narrative tropes and contrivances which, for some reason, are tolerated and even lauded in some movies while being damned as too derivative in others. This franchise has always been a metaphor for why different peoples and civilizations may or may not survive when intermingled or in close proximity. The way that this particular movie plays out is very much as we might imagine things playing out behind the scenes of the mid-19th century conflict between the American government and the Native Americans, with each side making overtures before one is finally tipped to the breaking point and resorts to outright cruelty - all to solve a problem about which neither side has all the facts. In history as I understand its broad strokes, President Andrew Jackson is a definite racist and enemy of Native Americans, but for reasons that extend beyond personal prejudice to a Native American civil war that was partially incited by the British and threatened many, otherwise innocent American lives in the North and South and particularly in the East, where the Trail of Tears would begin. This is the kind of situation that DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES plays with, turns on-head and tries to parallel at times, yet with varying degrees of success.
As I've already indicated, there remains here a broad metaphor for racism and the issues involved in race relations which I believe leads some to give it a pass not always given even to very similar films in the same or similar genres. Among those I was reminded of by DAWN's plot even include the STAR WARS prequels and, towards the end, many superhero films in terms of grand confrontations between representatives of a supposed good and a supposed evil. Even some of the dialogue borders on the hammy, particularly towards the end when, all the sudden, at least half if not most of it is spoken by the two leading ape characters.
The biggest issue I have is that the main protagonist is supposed to be Caesar, the ape leader; yet for all intents and purposes, he really is not changed the way protagonists are generally meant to be. If anything, he only ends the movie more convinced of what he has felt all along - that humans deserve the benefit of the doubt - despite not being in a position to actually give it to them anymore... hence the planned sequel. While the motion capture and CGI is very impressive, particularly during the action scenes, the very fact that the imagery and movement IS so realistic and faithful to the way apes move and behave in real life (without the benefit of drug-enhanced brains) makes characters like the ape villain often come across as mildly comedic when he is intended to be anything but.
Last, but not least, Gary Oldman is the film's biggest star, I think, and he could have been used much better. Though it's saying something that, for me, his is really the only human character I truly cared about and even empathized with (his performance being quite powerful despite minimal back story), he is set up to be the human villain to be compared with the ape villain. However, what he ultimately does is, for me, more justified despite what he finds out at the last minute if only because he's the appointed leader of the human group and because, in the movie (SPOILER), humans are the first to be attacked with any serious intent.
Don't get me wrong. I had a lot of fun with this movie just as I expected to. Unfortunately, I think I just went in with inflated expectations. Whether or not many others have/will and come away with similar viewpoints remains to be seen. I do have to note how disappointing it is for me (however mildly) that nowhere in the credits is either the late Pierre Boulle (original Planet Of The Apes author) or producer Arthur P. Jacobs given real credit for the concept or the characters. The latter's creation is credited to the screenwriters of the last two movies, and that seems to be the extent of it.
This may be due to copyright and union laws, which tend to decide based on such things as who contributed the most original material to the final piece. At the very least, though, Caesar is a version of the "Caesar" character from the fourth film in the original franchise, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. As in the new version, the Caesar in CONQUEST also becomes the patriarch of the eventual ape civilization. Whatever the case, don't let my quibbles or anything else keep you from seeing this movie. It's entertaining, emotional, and it will make you think about the issues presented no matter how deeply or nuanced you believe them to be in the film, itself.