Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not the “savior of the summer of 2014,” and I wonder if the people praising it as such have actually been to the theater in the past couple months. As long as we’re comparing, it has none of the visual sophistication of Godzilla and completely lacks the wit of Edge of Tomorrow. I’d go on, but you get the point.
It’s not the best sequel ever made, though it does improve marginally on its predecessor. It suffers for having an identical structure to Rise, veering between awful expository dialogue and ham-handed homage to the earlier films in the franchise. As to the latter, watch a trailer for Battle, Conquest, or Escape: they’re all selling the exact same beats.
Dawn works in fits and starts, but oh, what fits and starts they are! Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell are both brilliant as Caesar and Koba. Koba may be the year’s best villain; his Shakespearean scheming breathes life into the film’s grim and straight-faced narrative. The simplicity of his motivations is nice, but I can’t help but wonder if the film would’ve benefitted from making him less aggressive and more fearful to mirror the villainy of some of the humans. There’s plenty of human/ape paralleling going on, but Koba’s rage-filled persona doesn’t have a direct counterpart.
It doesn’t help that all the humans put together aren’t as compelling as any one of the apes. I’ll give the film this, though: the special effects are, and I can say this without hyperbole, the best I’ve ever seen in any film. I just wish the film underneath was a little more substantial.
Movie Verdict: Meh
I was perturbed by Franco’s ho-hum performance as scientist Will Rodman in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Nevertheless, his connection to Caesar as a caretaker and as a researcher was an important anchor for the film’s central drama. Similarly, John Lithgow’s struggle with Alzheimer’s was moving because it was personal, and it helped bolster the struggle over whether it is fair to sacrifice ape freedom for human health.
These elements offered perspective on the conflict between humans and apes that made both sides seem reasonable in their own right. Conversely, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes away any personal connection to the humans. The result is a work that feels oddly lopsided: beautiful ape drama tainted regularly by the banality of their primate cousins. As a sequel, it might up the stakes on effects and glitter, but it ultimately fails in ways its predecessor did not.
I love when filmmakers bring out the human element in characters because it inspires empathy from the audience. But unfortunately, this trick only manifests itself in Caesar and his clan. Intrigue dissipates as it radiates outward from there and the humans are, ironically, left out to pasture.
Movie Verdict: Meh
The following podcast is an in-depth discussion of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Naturally, this includes spoilers about the film’s plot, score, characters, and cinematography. You can listen to the podcast via the player below, download it here, or subscribe via iTunes. Enjoy!
Final Verdict: Meh
What did you think? Were you satisfied by the film’s dramatic build? Or did the forgettable characters leave you cold? Leave a comment and let us know!