Now THIS is a summer blockbuster movie! So far this summer blockbuster season I’ve been greatly entertained by the slew of terrific movies that have been released. And when I heard that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would be released this summer, I knew it would be one of the greatest summer blockbuster by far…and I was right! Directors Matt Reeves, Andy Serkis and writers Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have come together to make this the best movie the summer.
Back in 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise was rebooted with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise made the franchise great again. It was a beautifully directed, acted and scripted film that made me eager for the sequel. Now, Dawn has been released and it improves upon what made the first film so good.
The film begins with the apes from the first film now living in a large community in the forest. They hunt, gather and teach their young necessary life skills. This is one of my personal favorite highlights of the film. It has been ten years since the last film and humanity has been almost completely eradicated and the apes are prospering in the forest, and in those ten years the apes can barely speak English. They speak a broken English that you would expect to hear from The Hulk. This, for me, made me feel like we were truly seeing a progression. It wouldn’t feel right to me if these apes were speaking fully structured, grammatically correct sentences. You can tell that they are still learning this new-found intelligence. For most of the film, the apes are speaking a mix between English and sign language. It just makes the apes feel much more real. Although, I would like to see them speak much better English in the next film after a few years have passed, just to give a better sense of growth.
Without giving too much away from the plot, there is a small community of humans surviving in the ruins of San Francisco and they want to harness the energy of a dam that is in the heart of the apes’ community. Naturally, the apes and humans butt heads, but Caesar, the leader of the apes, allows the humans to work on the dam because of his past experiences with humans. This is where the internal conflict with the apes, and my personal favorite character comes into play. Koba, an angry ape that does not trust humans due to his past experiences with their bad side, does not want to trust the humans with the dam. He wants to attack them before they attack the apes. Caesar and Koba continually clash on this topic and Koba wants to overthrow Caesar.
This film does not solely focus on the apes, obviously. There is still a human element in the film. Human beings are almost back to the stone age due to the virus from the apes from the last film. They want to become the prosperous race that they once were. However, I was far more interested in the apes’ story so much so that every time a human would come on-screen I was counting the minutes until the apes came back into focus. Caesar’s struggles with teaching his son to become a warrior and a respectable ape, his struggle with trusting the humans and his struggle with Koba and the communities’ overall trust make the apes far more interesting to watch.
The exquisite acting by the motion-capture king, Andy Serkis and beautifully written script by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver made this story not only a great action film, but a smart film that tugs at the heartstrings. It makes you feel for Caesar’s internal conflicts with his family and community and most importantly it makes you feel for Koba. He is a very angry ape that does some pretty nasty things and therefore you would want to see his demise. But Koba has been written and acted out in a way that you feel for him. He is not doing the things he does just simply because he can, but because he was abused by humans. He hates them for what they have done to him and his kind. This made me feel, more than anything, sad for Koba. They develop him perfectly so that he isn’t just a flat, copy and paste villain.
Character development is probably this film’s greatest strength. While the human beings aren’t the full focus of the film, they are not just side characters. They have thoughts and feelings and families. Every character is written with a reason for why they act the way they do. Almost every human in the film has lost someone and this gives them their reason for wanting to fight the apes, while a select few want peace with them. Caesar is developed beautifully. I’ve already discussed the problems that he faces and they all come together to make him grow and develop.
The Bottom Line: With the summer blockbuster season almost over and only two big movies left on my list (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy) I think it’s safe to say that Dawn is my favorite movie of this summer. Unless TMNT or Guardians have some amazing tricks up their sleeves, I have made up my mind. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was more than a worthy successor to Rise, it flat-out bested it. With a smart, touching script, well-developed characters, heart pounding action, beautiful CGI and an ending that will leave you wanting more, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the summer blockbuster movie that we’ve been waiting for.