There is no secret as to why Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the surprise hit of summer 2011. His name is Caesar. He is what turned Rise into not just a good movie, but a classic one. His journey from pet, to frightened outcast, to brilliant revolutionary was something out of greek mythology. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wisely steps us back into Caesar’s world. This time, however, his world is much different than before, and it allows director Matt Reeves to explore the tribal, man vs. his worst nature elements from the classic films while also incorporating the mob-esque tone from Rise.
If you saw Rise (which you should have) and watched the ending credits, then you know where this film picks up. Alzheimer’s testing on apes made them super intelligent and also created a virus that began spreading throughout the world. By the time this film roles around, humans are seemingly down to only a community of survivors. Meanwhile, Caesar, now the father of two, has created a flourishing society of super smart apes.
The humans (specifically Keri Russell and Gary Oldman) all do a fine job, but it’s the apes and their interaction that make this movie even more captivating than the last. Andy Serkis, a.k.a. the king of motion capture (Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Kong in 2005’s King Kong) once again returns to masterfully portray Caesar. He is stronger and wiser than he was in the previous film. Part Professor X, part Mufasa, part Tony Soprano, it is easy to see why he is such an iconic character. His entourage of apes, including the orangutan, gorilla, and bully chimp from the first film and now his teenage son Blue Eyes, are all solid supporting characters even with limited dialogue.
But the character that moves the story and makes the movie more lively, is Koba (Toby Kebbell). Remember that creepy looking, caged ape from the first film with all of the scars… yeah that guy. He is the ultimate adversary, playing out the worst natures of any creature with higher intelligence. We watch as he goes from Caesar’s friend to his ultimate enemy, attacking humans because of fear and hatred that we can’t even blame him for having, because it is warranted by our same fears and hatreds.
Like with the previous installment, there is the perfect balance of heart tugging drama to go along with the bad ass moments and quotable dialogue. I especially love a moment during the climax when Caesar and the human lead (Jason Clarke) give their sorrowful goodbyes and apologize for the inevitable war they both thought they could naively avoid.
Because there are more apes and more personalities, we get a grander scope that makes Dawn better paced and more vibrant than Rise. Not to mention the CGI is incredible. I could’ve sworn those were real apes talking. If there is a knock at all, it’s that the 3D is highly unnecessary. I also thought the film sets itself up for a sequel when it actually could’ve wrapped things up. But maybe there is more story to tell. Maybe there is one more element missing to transform our world into the true planet of the apes. If so, let’s hope it’s as smart, thought provoking, and gritty as these first two.
FINAL GRADE: A