By Sandra Kraisirideja
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the follow up to the 2011 reboot of the franchise, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and like other extraordinary sci-fi sequels—”Aliens” and “The Empire Strikes Back” come to mind—this film not only moves the narrative forward but also creates a more engrossing world to examine.
Director Matt Reeves has created a mesmerizing film to watch and his command of the genre is impressive. It doesn’t hurt that Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who penned “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” returned for the sequel. This time around they are joined by Matt Bomback. The presence of Jaffa and Silver must have made it easier for them to keep exploring the themes established with “Rise.”
While Reeves and the rest of the team deserves an enormous amount of credit for the artistry of the film, the contribution of Andy Serkis as Caesar, the ape leader, cannot be ignored. Through the magic of motion capture technology, Serkis brings so much power, emotion, humanity and realism to the role that it is unlike anything that has been seen on film before. Only Gollum—from the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, which Serkis also portrayed—comes close.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” begins 10 years after the last film. Through news footage—some real, some created for the movie— it’s learned the world’s population has been decimated by a deadly virus and global warfare. The apes who escaped the facility where the virus was manufactured are given the blame. It’s not known how many humans have survived or what became of the apes after they ran across the Golden Gate Bridge and escaped into the Muir Woods .
The opening sequence makes it clear humans and apes want nothing to do with each other and both parties have stayed out of each other’s way, but a chance encounter changes everything.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” shows how fear and hatred have power over all species. The apes are driven to war by hatred for humans because of how they were treated, and the humans choose war out of fear for their survival. No amount of intelligence makes a species immune to these emotions.
When the movie begins it is with an extreme close up on a pair of eyes belonging to Caesar, the ape who was raised by Will Rodman (James Franco) in the first movie and gained the ability to read, write and speak. He is standing in a forest surrounded by apes all and it appears he is leading them into battle, but it turns out to be a hunting party, His son, Blue Eyes, is introduced and it quickly becomes apparent that their relationship has some challenges. Other ape characters who are significant to the story are introduced as the hunting party returns to their homestead.
The ape colony, as envisioned by production designer James Chinlund, is a peaceful, verdant encampment high up in the forest. Its main centerpiece is a massive, curving staircase built with stacked branches wrapping up and all around an enormous tree. Cinematographer Michael Seresin captures the beauty of the scenery and it’s impossible to know what is real, what is green screen and what is a digital effect.
For the human colony, the scenery is still green as the city is taken over with overgrown vegetation, but there is a sense of claustrophobia as everyone is crammed into a highrise. It’s refreshing to see a future that isn’t bleak and barren. Apparently it still rains in San Francisco in the future.
Following a thoughtful conversation between Caesar and Maurice, another ape from the first film, about whether or not humans are still alive, Blue Eyes and his friend Ash are taken by surprise by a human walking in the forest. The confrontation does not go well and Ash ends up shot, which is when the story really gets going.
There is a wonderful balance between the action in the movie and its quieter moments. The action sequences are breathtaking to watch, especially a battle sequence that involves a runaway tank. However, without those quiet moments the movie would not be quite as satisfying.
When the dust settles at the end, the camera once again zooms in on Caesar’s eyes and this time they appear more human than ever.