Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell
What makes a great sequel? This is a question that comes up a lot in discussion amongst movie buffs like myself. It’s also a relevant question just because of the sequel, prequel, and reboot induced culture in modern-day Hollywood. A great sequel does a number of things. First of all, it improves upon the original. A great sequel should use what made its predecessor so good, but upping the ante and still distinguishing itself without copying what the first movie accomplished. Secondly, it should add new things to the franchise. Much like Empire Strikes Back gave us Yoda and T2 gave us the T-1000. Finally, there should be a reason for it to even exist in the franchise besides earning money and creating a brand. The filmmaker should be inspired to make it, not just for money, but for art. To send a message and to create a story that is memorable and will stick with people. Well, I can comfortably say that Dawn does every single one of these things, and is easily one of the greatest action sic-fi sequels of all time up there with Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and The Empire Strikes Back.
Dawn takes place about a decade after the events of the first film. The pandemic of the deadly ALZ-113 virus from the first film has spread worldwide causing human population to drastically reduce, with only a few genetically immune to the virus. Apes, with genetically enhanced intelligence caused by the same virus, have started to build a civilization of their own. Apes are starting to populate more and more, and humans are beginning to become extinct. A small band of human survivors emerge, which forces Caesar, who has become leader of the apes, to grapple with the dual challenge of protecting his people and re-establishing a relationship with the remaining human population. Dawn is basically an apocalyptic, sci-fi, action thriller and it is absolutely stunning from beginning to end. Allow me to explain.
Matt Reeves took over the franchise in this film, and what started out as a big shock and controversy to begin with, quickly turned into satisfaction and gratification once the film first released back in 2014. It was quickly obvious that Reeves was the perfect person to take over this franchise, and also was one to keep an eye on. What Reeves did with Dawn was create a world that is not only believable, but extremely immersive. From the opening shot, viewers’ eyes will be glued to the screen and taken into a world full of dismay, but wonder. Compared to the studio filmmaking of the first film, Reeves decided to film most of the movie outside in the woods, and in hand-built exterior sets. There are apes riding horses! And the actual actors who are playing the apes through performance capture are riding the horses and portraying the characters. The only difference from normal acting is they have tight suits and dots all over their bodies. Reeves manages to perfectly combine what is so great about modern-day big-studio filmmaking, and just old-school filmmaking in general. He uses the necessary resources that only modern-day Hollywood can achieve like performance capture CGI and takes advantage of his large budget to create monstrous set-pieces and landmarks that look like nothing you have ever seen. The film is also shot beautifully and acted marvelously, all with a pitch-perfect musical score by the great Michael Giacchino.
Dawn also does what all the great science-fiction films do. Allows us to think about our culture and even relate to characters who are obviously fictional. Watching this film, people will find Caesar extremely relatable and someone to aspire to be, even though he is a talking ape and is the leader of a large population of apes that are taking over the world. He is an absolutely fascinating character that Andy Serkis, once again, illuminates to perfection. The film also speaks about how our culture can easily blame other people if something were to go terribly wrong before stopping to think about themselves. Also, it speaks to the relevance of our prejudice and discriminatory culture. How people can immediately act against someone, without very little knowledge of who they are, just based on who they are on the outside. All of this is soaked up into this film and it give the film necessary layers and hidden meanings that makes a movie significant when it could have been a joke or a dull blockbuster film in the wrong hands.
Lastly, I want to point out the characters in the film, that for the most part, are brand new in the franchise. A lot of the ape characters are the same from the previous film, but they all are given their own identities and can easily be detected from one another. All the human character are brand new, but they all have depth as well, and motives that make sense. There are some human characters like Jason Clarke’s Malcolm for example, who just wants to save society. Whereas there are characters like Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus who have a tragic past and are just looking to destroy anything that may have caused that. There isn’t one side who you are supposed to root for and another side that you are supposed to root against. Each side, the apes and humans, have characters you are gonna love and root for, but also characters that are antagonistic and you will hate. The film is not painted black and white, but more “grayish”. Kind of like what Game of Thrones does so well.
Dawn is easily one of the best action films of recent memory, but also one of the best sequels in the history of cinema. It’s certainly hard to create a great sequel that adds something new to franchise without detracting from what made the predecessor so good, but Dawn does exactly that. Brining in a new director with a serious vision and talent like one Matt Reeves was a brilliant move, and helped elevate the franchise to new heights. The directing, acting, set-design, music, action sequences, and minimal but affective CGI all combined make this film an astonishment. There are so many memorable scenes, characters, and individual moments that make Dawn extremely layered. At one point there’s an intense action sequence, and in the next an emotional character driven scene that will tug at your heart-strings. It may be more beneficial to watch the first movie first, but it still works as a standalone movie. A lot of people wouldn’t need to see the first movie to still get an impact from this movie which is one of the greatest compliments I can give it. I’m really looking forward to how Matt Reeves is gonna end this trilogy and the character of Caesar. Matt Reeves certainly has a big obstacle ahead of him if he thinks he can “up the ante” once more with the third film, but I absolute have faith in him. My grade for this movie is: