“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Review

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“War has already begun.”

It hurts me to say this, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not as great as everyone is making it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really good. It has an admirable vision for the world and the characters in the film, the emotional weight for this one is arguably heavier than it is in Rise, and the visuals are even more spectacular this time around. However, many of the supporting characters are very weak and sometimes the story is a little more cliched than I had wish it’d been, which in turn brings down the film a few notches.

Throughout the movie, there were two clashing conclusions that I kept coming to until the very final frame: “Damn, this is one ballsy studio movie…” and “Damn, they really played that part safe…”. Scenes like the opening fifteen or so minutes of the film where there is no spoken dialogue at all or whenever Koba is up to something sinister were somewhat surprising to see in a film of this kind (which, by the way, is MUCH darker than the first one in this reboot series). But, there were some plot points where you could tell the studio pulled the reigns on director Matt Reeves just enough to not totally offend the general audiences.Reeves does the best with what he’s allowed to do with the rating, though.

Like I said earlier, the film’s emotional impact is possibly even greater than it was in Rise, which was already quite an emotional film. Caesar is clearly the main character here, unlike last time where he arguably shared that role with James Franco‘s character. Throughout most of the film, Caesar is torn between trusting the humans or attacking them, but his most important duty is to protect his family, which he goes to great lengths to do, no matter the cost. Like usual, Andy Serkis gives one hell of a performance this time around, but Caesar’s arc gives him more to work with this time around than when compared to the material given to him for Rise.

However, this same theme of “family” isn’t carried over with the lead human character, Malcolm, played by Jason Clarke. There was potential to link the two different species with the family theme, but Malcolm’s kid and love interest aren’t giving much to do. This leaves us with hints towards yet another similarity between the two different types (something the film constantly tries to remind us), but never quite uses it to the fullest of its potential.

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But, I did like all the other comparisons between to two different kinds. In reality, both sides could and should be considered “animals”. Both sides hunt and kill to survive, but what makes one side more evil than the other? This is angle that the film thankfully uses to its advantage. The fact of the matter is that there are no “true” villains in this movie. Some might be a bit more misguided when it comes to their views, but everyone has a “point” or some sort of reasoning behind their actions, something that most films don’t dare to touch on today.

Though we already have the family aspect that drives both Caesar and Malcolm to do what they do, Gary Oldman‘s character and Koba, the scarred chimp from the labs in Rise, also have their own views. Whether it’s for family, for revenge, or for the sake of an entire race, all of these characters have something that’s worth fighting for, and you’re never flat-out hating any one character, even though Koba’s ideals and actions are much harder to get behind. But, you can clearly see why he’s doing what he’s doing, especially if you’ve seen Rise.

Sadly, the story can be cliched at times, which is quite sad, given some of the heavier themes and messages that the film has to offer to us. The film has some obvious influences (which I will not name here), leading you to easily predict the outcome of many situations throughout the film. The story definitely isn’t bad, but it sure as hell isn’t original. Also, there are some different (and better) directions that the film could have taken later in the in the second act of the movie, but it sadly resorts to the more reliable and “safe” route, which can be disappointing at times.

Overall, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is emotionally heavy, carries some interesting themes and ideals, and has some phenomenal special effects. I really didn’t talk about the special effects, but let’s just say they’re some of the best I’ve ever seen, and that’s no joke. Sadly, some predictable plotting and underdeveloped characters drag it down a bit, but not enough for it to be considered a disappointment in my book. A very solid effort that I’d say is about as good as Rise, but I’d hesitate to call it “great”. But then again, how many movies can make apes riding horses not only look realistic, but also completely badass?

“Malcolm, they’re animals!”

4 out of 5

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