The sun falls on the age of human dominance, much like the collapse of the Roman Empire. No one ever thought it would ever happen, but that’s what made us so ill-equipped for when it finally did. When homo sapiens were the new kids on the block, neanderthals were still around, but they completely disappeared over time. No one knows why, but there is an evolutionary theory that homo sapiens, being the better equipped to adapt to the changing environment and overall superiority, killed most of the neanderthals. History has a funny way of repeating itself. Anyway, most humans (and probably apes) are ill-prepared to witness the intellectually stimulating simian sensation that is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
The world’s population has been ravaged by a viral pandemic originating from the Alzheimer’s treatment drug that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis) his heightened intelligence. 10 years after the outbreak, there are scattered pockets of humans who have a natural resistance to the virus still alive around the word (or so we assume). Without humans to keep plant life in check, reforestation has begun. In those forests lives Caesar, alpha male of his hunter-gatherer society of apes. Having been exposed to the drug longer, Caesar is more intelligent than the other apes, giving him higher reasoning ability. His second in command, Koba (Toby Kebbell), is more brute force and anger, especially since he was tested on by humans. When they come across the remnants of humanity, Koba’s first instinct is to find them all and kill them. Caesar decides to show the human his strength and scare them into staying away from their home. The humans need to get the generators near the dam to work so their makeshift habitat can have electricity.
Remembering his friend and father figure Will, he believes there is good in humanity and let’s humans Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell), along with some others, near they home to make the repairs they need to. Meanwhile, the human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is readying their weapons in case the apes are uncooperative. Koba doesn’t trust the humans and has spoken out against his alpha Caesar to the point of being disgraced. To get his way, Koba incites a war by assassinating Caesar and framing the humans, resulting in all out war on both sides. I wonder who will win?
Ok, that was a joke. We already know the future that this is building up to. It’s that same future with those “Damn Dirty Apes” Charlton Heston so iconically exclaimed in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. The reason this round of films is so successful is because they give us the elusive origins of how apes came to be the future dominant species without trying to remake the sacrilege that is the original film. Since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has the same writers as its predecessor, the main success can be attributed to director Matt Reeve’s (Let Me In, Cloverfield) vision. This film could have very easily gone catastrophically wrong, especially creating such a heavily computer-generated population of apes and NOT making it an all out animated feature. Avatar was one of the only 3D films to successfully fuse the two aspects together into a cohesive and engaging film. Well, until now at least.
Dawn‘s story succeeds by focusing on the important part, the apes. I’m not saying the human protagonists aren’t important because they are essential to propelling the apes’ story forward and explaining how the ape society functions and evolves. We know our place in the future society and that is subservience. Oh, and pets. Personally I wouldn’t mind being a pet, but I digress. The biggest risk was how well the ape protagonists could emote, and in that area alone came one of the films greatest triumphs. Even in 3D, every character was able to emote the same complex range of emotions most humans can, which elevated the film from potential comical sci-fi to a serious social commentary on humanity as a whole. I did enjoy James Franco and the almost coming of age story for Caesar that was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but seeing us inch inevitably closer to an ape dominated society in Dawn was much more satisfying and overall a greater progression in the overall story arch. I will also say, as a fan of historical societies, I enjoyed the accurate depiction of the Caesar’s hierarchy, and every ape’s role in the new world order.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the only blockbuster this summer that is the full package. By that, I mean it’s story is full of symbolism and aspects of our own history blended together and contextualized for the apes. The visuals are stunning, even taking into account that the film will mostly be viewed in 3D, are a refreshing experience over the other blockbuster bombs (some concerning alien machines that transform into driving billboards) reminding us that we don’t have to sacrifice the story for amazing visuals.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★(9/10 stars)
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