A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.
My Opinion: Rise of the Planet of the Apes did a more than serviceable job rebooting the franchise after Tim Burton’s disasterous remake. With Dawn, though, the series is taken to a new level. The apes get more attention this time around, and we see how far they have evolved over the course of a decade. From housing to hunting to education, ape society is beyond where Caesar himself was in the previous film. Even verbal language, which was briefly hinted at in the previous film, has started to take hold among the apes.
Caesar proved to be the heart of Rise, and he’s placed front-and-center in Dawn as a leader trying to figure out a way – any way – for apes and humans to coexist. It’s impossible to give too much credit for this to Andy Serkis, whose take on Caesar ranks with performances like Gollum (also Serkis) as among the best utilizing motion capture. He’s not the only one excelling in the motion-capture mode, either. Toby Kebbell brings true menace to Koba in this film, and eerily conveys Koba’s anger and hurt as much as his attempts to distract humans. And it’s remarkable how much the digital effects have improved over the last three years; the apes appear more life-like than ever, and there are certainly plenty of moments where it’s easy to forget they’re being created digitally.
Like with the previous film, the humans don’t matter as much this time around – they’re thinly written and mainly serve to function as part of the story, nothing more. Giving credit where it’s due, though, the main (human) cast still manages to imbue their characters with some depth. Jason Clarke, in particular, is a vast improvement over James Franco as the human with whom Caesar develops a bond.
What stands out most, though, is the impending battle. With most summer blockbusters, the battle is what audiences want – that’s where the action lies. But Dawn does a considerably good job emphasizing how bad this will be for everyone involved. So while the battle creates some great sequences (seriously, the tank sequence alone is worth the price of admission), there’s a dark tone that makes it hard to root for one side. And while the battle ends in a way that should be at least somewhat satisfying, it’s clear by the end of the film that the war between apes and humans has only begun.