So, this is a movie about talking apes. As such, one might expect that it would be difficult to have a serious discussion on the movie, much less a serious review. Interestingly enough, though, that’s one of the great strengths of the film–it allows for discussion and analysis, even with the fundamentally silly premise.
To summarize the plot quickly, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes place 10 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The apes have developed even further, constructing their own society and culture. They have a home, a governmental structure, schools–they are a fully-functioning society. The only way they’re able to do this, though, is because humanity has by and large been wiped out by a virus (as suggested during the end of the last film). The Apes believe all the humans are dead, until they encounter several.
These humans have set up a colony in San Fransisco, and they need a nearby dam in order to restore power. The problem is that the dam is in the middle of the apes’ forest. What follows is a tense diplomatic period, as the apes struggle to decide what to do with these new humans.
Let me start off by saying this: I had really low expectations going into this. I didn’t expect much of anything from it, even though I enjoyed the first one. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this was actually a really good film.
It’s slow at the beginning, which caught me off guard. Until the end, there really isn’t much action. Much of the screen time is devoted to developing the diplomacy between the apes and the humans, which frankly is the most interesting part of the film. Once the explosions start the film begins to cover familiar ground, even though it maintains a strong character base at its center.
That’s one of this film’s strengths: the characters are phenomenal. Cesar, the main ape, is played brilliantly by Andy Serkis (no surprise there), but multiple other apes are also developed. Even with the minimal dialog between them, these creatures still have emotional depth. The humans are, for the most part, just as good. While Gary Oldman’s character is actually quite minor (and thus not developed), the main humans are all built up well. The annihilation of the human race by the virus has affected all of them deeply–and you can tell. They go through all the standard emotions, but underneath it you get the sense of pure devastation that they feel.
The screenwriters did something interesting in that they didn’t much explain the back story of any of the main human characters. Instead, they let the actors make the characters three-dimensional, opting to focus all the character development in the present moment. It’s something out of the ordinary, but it works.
The other ingenious thing done here is that 2/3 of the film is basically drawn-out diplomatic proceedings between the two parties. It’s not what I expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fascinating to see the humans overcome the communication barrier and begin to talk to the apes. The response of the ape community fit in well and added yet another layer to the plot.
Ultimately, though, the writers wrote themselves into a corner. The tension got so high, and there were so many different variables going on in the negotiations, that it simply had to devolve. Now, if they had let it devolve but then simply had a minor skirmish instead of all out war, the last 1/3 of the film could have been just as good as the first 2/3. But the problem is that once war started, there was no going back. The negotiations had been broken, and so from there on out it became a matter of simply beating the other side.
The climax was satisfying, but it was nothing new. Giving the innovation on display in the majority of the film, it was slightly disappointing. On the whole, though, I do recommend this movie. It has its flaws, but overall it’s a well-written, well-acted, and enjoyable film. There was a lot going against it (like, I don’t know, talking apes) but the screenwriters pulled it off. And for that I congratulate them.