Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

Me saw 'Apes'. Me like 'Apes'.

20th Century Fox

Summary: Set ten years after the events of 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, humans are on the verge of extinction. Caesar and his loyal band of simians have made Muir Woods their home north of San Francisco and live in peace unaware if any humans are alive or not. But they find out soon enough when a small group enters the woods to restore power to the city. Caesar, humbled by his past, knows not all humans are bad but he doesn't trust them. He must decide whether to help them or hunt them and start a war that could endanger his family.

What Works?

Motion Capture, Andy Serkis, and a Legion of Brilliant Apes

What should strike you immediately watching this film is the authenticity of the hundreds of apes of all varieties seen throughout. Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the apes move and sound like the real thing which fundamentally infuses the story with an emotional heft. This world really seems to exist. Caesar is the hero of the film so it's important we empathize with him. The special effects team, Serkis, and the rest of the motion capture actors bring the apes to vivid life. They're just about perfect, especially the orangutan, Maurice.

Palpable Urgency

Any great action film heightens in intensity as the film draws to a close. Dawn pulls this off by keeping its foot on the pedal the entire movie. It begins with the apes on the hunt in the woods, chasing a herd of deer. Then the humans show up and come face to face with the menacing army. Then the apes arm themselves and head to San Francisco. Then they seem to reach an understanding. The "thens" go on and on. The film is a non-stop series of face offs and clashes and the intensity is in the suspense. Will the apes attack? Will the humans do something stupid to provoke them? There's one sequence where the human diplomat (played by Jason Clarke) enters the ape camp alone to negotiate with Caesar. The scene is immense. Clark's eyes tell the tale as he watches hundreds of apes gather around him and carry him inside like the Ewoks did to Luke and Leia. It's a thrilling sequence to watch.

Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
20th Century Fox

The Current of tribal Sympathy

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is essentially an allegory for both the dawn of man and the settling of America, with the apes in the roles of the Native American tribes. They live peacefully off the land and with one another. Ape society is primitive, but they have discovered fire. Dwellings are made from timber and rocks (the production design is amazing). They paint themselves when they're on the hunt. They communicate through sign language, although Caesar and some others can speak rudimentary English. But the apes have their peaceful existence upended by the arrival of unwelcome humans. Romanticizing the Native American way of life has been done ad nauseum in films over the years, but it doesn't feel contrived here as it has in other movies (Dances with Wolves, Avatar). The essence of the apes' way of life is for peace and that challenges our allegiances. Which leads us to...

Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
20th Century Fox

Character Complexity

The Apes sequel manages to pull off something not many movies have. It allows us to feel for both dogs in the fight. Director Matt Reeves doesn't play favorites, and the script, by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback, inserts an "evil" character into both camps who create conflict. The chief villain is the scarface ape, Koba (Toby Kebbell), who would rather die than trust the humans. Permanently damaged by the experiments performed on him when he was a lab chimp, he urges Caesar to attack at any cost. The character development is rich and drives the emotional core of the film. 

What Doesn't Work?

The Ending

Unfortunately, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes mails the ending in. (We saw it last year in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.) Middle sequels sometimes do this. Instead of creating a complete film, the writers saw fit to end things on a simple note that's basically a teaser for the next film in the series. Caesar's eyes begin and end the film like some kind of symbolic bookend, but it's an empty shot, done for style. It's the film's biggest weakness and an undeserving one, considering how tight the entire film is to that point. 

Final Grade: B+

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback, characters by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, based on the novel La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle.

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPheeKirk Acevedo

Rated: PG-13

Runtime: 130 minutes

Trailers, Clips, & Posters

Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
20th Century Fox
Zimbio Flash Film Review: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'
20th Century Fox

Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.