Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set just over a decade after Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that movie, a scientist experimented with a cure for Alzheimer’s on apes. The cure increased the intelligence of the apes. The apes eventually escaped and fled into the forests near San Francisco. The Alzheimer’s cure also caused a virus that wiped out most of humanity.
Dawn of the Planet of Apes returns to the ape’s forest refuge, where they have created their own primitive society. They are lead by Caesar, an ape raised by the scientist who created the Alzheimer’s drug. The apes haven’t seen humans for a few years and suspect that they are all be dead. But they aren’t.
A group of human survivors lives in San Francisco, and they are running out of fuel. They send a team into the forest to attempt to restart a hydro-electric generator. Their team encounters the apes, fear causes misunderstandings and violence ensues.
A committee of four writers wrote the film. They include the husband and wife team Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa who both also wrote Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The other two writers were Mark Bomback who wrote The Wolverine and the remake of Total Recall, and Scott Z. Burns who wrote Contagion. So the writers have a decent science-fiction pedigree. Matt Reeves directed. Among other films, he also directed Cloverfield.
Andy Serkis returns in the role of the ape Caesar that he played in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. His performance and excellent CGI create a believably proud and caring character.
Australian Jason Clarke plays Malcolm, a thinking man of action who leads the humans attempting to restart the hydro-electric generator. This appears to be Clarke’s first lead role in a movie. Previously he was the male CIA interrogator in Zero Dark Thirty. He also has appeared in a bunch of television shows including Farscape.
Gary Oldman makes an appearance as the thoughtful, but pragmatic, leader of the human survivors.
The film looks magnificent in 2D. The apes look and sound real, especially when they talk. Their pronunciations of words are more like grunts, unlikely the English accented Roddy McDowall in the original Planet of the Apes.
The apes aren’t into democracy, Caesar leads them like the chief of a primitive tribe of humans. In fact, very little imagination is required to substitute American Indians for the apes and turn the movie into a film about colonisation. Caesar could easily have been an Indian chief raised by white settlers.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does not have the excitement of new ideas that Rise of the Planet of the Apes had. That film was all about intelligence. It explored ideas around the battle to prevent brain diseases. And it explored what might happen if animal intelligence is increased to something like human intelligence.
Dawn of the Planet of Apes is a much simpler film about fear of the other, a theme that occurs regularly in movies. The movie’s tension, pace and action will suck most viewers into its story. It is just a pity that it did not attempt to explore a few more ideas. Still it is an exciting film to watch.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes keeps the Planet of the Apes’ mythology going. It is very easy to imagine how the apes in this movie evolve to the apes and civilisation in the original Planet of the Apes. So unless other ideas and themes emerge to explore, the franchise should be given a rest.
In the Planet of the Apes lexicon, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would come in third, behind the original Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. These movies are way ahead of the rest, especially the Tim Burton directed turkey.