Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
Blessed be the peacemakers, am I right? Achieving peace amidst all-time hostility comes with its share of difficulty as emotions are high along with our inherent disposition of power. Relatively seen as a human trait, but as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes displays, this can extend to a group of simians as well. By blending its Shakespearean story along with a larger battle for reconciliation and peace, this film carries the weight of its emotions and delivers it in such a satisfying action-heavy manner.
Ten years since a global pandemic of the Simian Flu, with an immunity rate of 1 in 500 amongst humans, knocks out much of humanity, a division arises between humans and the apes. The remaining humans stick together in colonies and one sits close to a simian group led by Caesar (Andy Serkis). As the attempts of peace occur between Caesar and a representative of the human colony, the sins from the past continue to plague both sides.
Following the unexpectedly strong re-introduction to this franchise in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this sequel carries the task of establishing what a world where Apes carry power may look like. This storied series has reached some incredible highs and some disappointing lows, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes quickly proves to be the best of them all because of the resonant nature of the story. It does not simply look at the battle between humans and apes as a matter of territorial struggle, but instead, it focuses more on the foundation of the pain on both sides and how achieving peace may be impossible for some.
We see this mainly with Koba (Toby Kebbell), a bonobo who suffered from human experimentation. Now as a free ape, he wants to utilize the newfound power of the apes for some retribution for those who abused him. “Those” does plenty of the work in the previous sentence because this revenge would not necessarily be occurring to those who specifically experimented on him. His anger gets directed towards humanity overall and the pain they are willing to inflict on other animals for their own use. A viewpoint I can sympathize with, but his methods are where he conflicts with Caesar. In the first feature, we see Caesar, who had a loving life and then gets thrust into this leadership role among the apes. He has not endured the pain of Koba and wants to seek peace to avoid any further violence. The contrast between Koba and Caesar appears in many clear ways as the story progresses, including Caesar bearing the weight of the apes he leads in the community along with his offspring. Koba has nothing but hate in his heart and will do whatever it takes to convince the apes to attack a group of people who have done him harm.
While the apes serve as the protagonists of this film, the side of the humans gets their perspective as well. Sure, you get the over the top villain portrayed by Gary Oldman, but the pain this group of people has endured can be felt as well. When you think of a pandemic where 1 in 500 developed immunity, which came from the apes, you can understand why some humans would be angry. Everyone who has survived the pandemic most likely lost a majority of their family, which is where you see the divide on the human side as well. The attempted peacemaker on the human side is Malcolm (Jason Clarke) while the leader of the outfit who has no love for the humans is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Their perspectives in trying to save their colony diverge when they discuss how to interact with the apes. The coincidence becomes clear with both Caesar and Malcolm thinking of peace, as they attempt to care for their loved ones while Dreyfus and Koba have lost so much in their lives. Pain supersedes all and clouds the judgment of these violent-leaning characters.
Reconciliation becomes a major factor in the progression of this story because of the way pain gets felt on both sides. Even with the apes being the protagonists, their actions do not always lead to what may be best for all. This explicitly gets stated in the film, which muddies the water in this larger struggle. Forgiving others for the pain they caused can hurt, but it serves as the only way to adequately move forward. The way each character reacts to the pain caused by others ultimately determines their fate in this story.
This can be said for each of the films within this dazzling trilogy, but the visual effects on the apes boggle my mind to no end. The film had several instances where I forgot these were not actual apes we’re watching on screen. It certainly helps to have two of the best motion-capture actors working here in Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbel portraying Caesar and Koba respectively. The subtle face movements and speaking done by these two truly bring these characters to life in such a marvelous manner. Their soul flows through, which allows them to express their emotions through their words, but also their movements. A technical achievement in so many facets, which adds to the emotional resonance each scene carries.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes puts you in the position to root for apes instead of our own species with good reason. The pain and suffering that occurred for the ten years between this film and its predecessor can be felt with the tiredness in everyone’s look and demeanor. The emotional wringer this film puts us through gets balanced by the spellbinding action, which does, in fact, have apes riding horses into battle sporting guns. An image for the ages and a truly spectacular film willing to carry its quiet moments along with the explosions.