Dawn of the Planet of the Apes SPOILER FREE Review
I remember going to see 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I wasn't as familiar with Andy Serkis as I am now but I knew that he was Gollum and King Kong and I had a general understanding of what motion-capture was and how it worked. I saw the movie because I had seen the original 1960's Planet of the Apes and I was a fan of the franchise. The trailers also looked pretty good, too. I saw Rise and was absolutely blown away by the film. Serkis' performance was so exceptional that I will always defend that he should have at least been nominated for an Oscar. What he was able to convey with just his face, not even talking, is incredible. Without any words he is able to carry an entire film (because in my opinion, he is the lead actor and James Franco is a supporting character) and have you feel for a monkey! You feel and understand Caesar's pain without him saying a single word ("Noooo!" comes later in the movie). For the record, I rate Rise of the Planet of the Apes a 9/10.
My excitement and my expectations for the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was through the roof. Coming off of such a fantastic movie, Dawn was the most anticipated film of the year. I mean, it's apes on horses with machine guns. What??! That's just awesome. Every trailer has just raised the stakes for me. Most of the time that I see movies with this much anticipation I'm almost always left disappointed but I was convinced that this movie would exceed my expectations.
Short version, it didn't exceed. It came right up to my line of expectation and stopped within a quarter of an inch of that line. Don't take this as knocking the film. I loved Dawn. At certain parts it met my expectations. Some parts it did exceed. Some parts it fell a bit short. When I look back at the film as a whole: Andy Serkis gives another fantastic performance. In my opinion he is the most underrated actor in Hollywood today. But I felt that his performance in this film wasn't on the same level as his performance in the last one. There was one scene in all of Rise that alone should have won him an Oscar, and that is when he has to say goodbye to Franco's character at the animal shelter.
In Rise, Andy played a broken and hurt character who rises up. In Dawn, he plays a noble leader. As I watched Dawn, I felt that he was still fantastic, but comparative to not just Rise but his other motion-capture performances, it didn't push him over the edge for me. I am not bashing Andy Serkis. He is one of my favorite actors but his performance in this film just didn't hit all the notes that his first performance did.
A stand-out star of the movie was Toby Kebbell. For the longest time, Serkis has been the best actor working in motion-capture. He has really been the only person to truly do it well. In Dawn, that changed. While Kebbell's performance as Koba was not as good as Andy's performance as Caesar, it certainly came close to its level. Koba stood out for me during the movie as one of its strongest parts because as a villain you could understand exactly what drove him. Why Koba did that things he did. And most of that was because of Kebbell's performance and all the subtleties he added to the role. While Andy was the better performer, Kebbell sure gave him a run for his money.
The visual effects in this film are the best I have seen all this year. It trumps huge movies such as Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Those films have fantastic CGI but it's nothing compared to what Dawn accomplishes. My one big problem with Rise was that, although the CGI was revolutionary at the time, at certain points the apes did look fake. With this, it is flawless. At certain points, it was hard to keep in mind that these were computer generated because they looked so realistic.
One of the last things I want to cover is the story. A big stereotype for a summer blockbuster is that it will just be mindless, blowing stuff up fun. You can leave your brain at the door. And this is true with movies like Transformers. But X-Men: Days of Future Past was first to prove this year that you can have a summer blockbuster that is fun and engaging but is also thought-provocative. Dawn takes that and expands on it. A lot of people went to just see apes on horses with guns but at the center of this movie is its story. The development of Caesar and Koba. The deeper meanings and metaphors. These little things that start with the script are what makes Rise and Dawn so beloved, because it's story first, action second. One thing that I picked up on that especially made me appreciate the care that went into the story more was one little subtle detail. Near the end of the movie, Caesar is leading a group of apes onward. In front of them is a turnstile. Caesar is first and he walks through the turnstile. Every other ape after him climbs over it. The fact that Caesar used the turnstile, a human invention, symbolizes his human upbringing and his love and respect for the humans. The other apes climb over it because they don't have that same respect for humans. They are in many ways, though enhanced by the drug, more primitive than Caesar. That was just one thing that really stood out to me. A lot of the different messages the movie brought out just enhanced the movie. And, also apes riding horses with machine guns was awesome too.
I have yet to decide whether I officially like Dawn better than Rise. I have only seen Dawn once so I plan on seeing it at least once more in theaters so I can decide. As it stands now, and this may change upon seeing it again,
Have you seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? What did you think? Did you like Rise or Dawn better? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Written by: Nate
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