They said no bridge could cross the divide,
Too far and different were each side,
And yet two chose
To still propose
A bridge to span the gap so wide.
They slowly worked with cautious hope
To lay foundations, tighten rope,
And earn the trust
That is a must
For silencing the misanthrope.
Naysayers had their efforts spurned,
Yet look what trust can build when earned!
Then fast as fire,
The doubters’ ire
Had lit the bridge and down it burned.
MPAA rating: PG-13
Wow! If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a prime reboot, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an exemplary sequel. It continues the storyline of its predecessor while establishing a new yet complementary scenario with far more depth than the simple “rise of the apes” concept could have had in the hands of lesser writers.
Set ten years after Rise, Dawn sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of intelligent esc-ape-ees having built their own mini-civilization, hidden in a dense redwood forest, while humanity has been decimated by the same virus that gave the apes their heightened intelligence. When a band of immune human survivors stumbles upon the apes, tensions immediately flare, especially because the humans’ energy needs won’t allow them the logical course of keeping their distance. Yet the human leader Malcolm (Jason Clarke) actually tries to reach out to Caesar and his apes and work toward mutual trust, something of which apes and humans alike disapprove, especially Caesar’s second-in-command Koba (Toby Kebbell).
The roles of both Caesar and Malcolm are very much representative of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If—” as they try to “keep [their] head when all about [them] are losing theirs and blaming it on [them].” They both want what’s best for their respective groups, and they know that that includes peace between them. We as level-headed viewers recognize the wisdom of their actions, and yet so many of their subordinates carry far too much baggage and resentment to trust that wisdom. Whether it be humans who automatically associate the word “ape” with the virus epidemic or surly Koba, who still hates humans for using him as a research guinea pig, they question their leader’s judgment and even his loyalties without questioning if he might be right. It’s frustrating and yet all too believable, considering humanity’s known weakness and intolerance.
Another major theme is that the apes and humans are not as different as either side would think. That weakness and intolerance are common to both, as is the tendency to view such opponents as a group rather than individuals who don’t necessarily all believe the same thing. The act of a rogue can quickly spiral into “us versus them” violence that makes such perceptions harder to undo. What’s astounding about Dawn is how it gets these complex messages across with minimal dialogue, utilizing the apes’ broken English and hand motions to their fullest. The motion-capture CGI is also even more impressive than in Rise, wowing with the action battle scenes, as well as benefiting the story in less flashy ways, like the clearly recognizable emotions that play out on Caesar’s face, courtesy of the talented Andy Serkis.
In addition to the Oscar-nominated visuals, all the performances are outstanding, especially Clarke, Serkis, Keri Russell as Malcolm’s wife, and Gary Oldman as Malcolm’s less trusting counterpart. James Franco is sadly departed from the story, but there are affecting reminders of him and Caesar’s past. Caesar’s ape friends who do carry over from Rise don’t stand out that much, making me glad I still remembered them from having just seen the first film, but Koba’s role is greatly expanded as an antagonist, with the ending directly mirroring one of his actions in Rise. Also, as a fan of tracking shots, I must point out a scene I loved in which the camera follows Malcolm as he stumbles through a maze of hallways trying to avoid invading apes. It made me think that a tracking shot could be a running element for the series, since Rise had the scene with young Caesar swinging throughout Will’s house.
Dawn is a sober movie that views the ape versus human struggle with far more nuance and regret than any earlier installment, precisely because the film shows it didn’t have to turn out the way it did. An action blockbuster is expected to have awesome visuals, but it’s a rare and pleasant surprise when there’s this much depth too. With so much tension between various groups nowadays, the film remains as timely as ever, a potent reminder to not let the worst parts of our nature carry us to destruction.
Best line: (Caesar) “I always think… ape better than human. I see now… how much like them we are.”
Rank: List-Worthy (joining Rise)
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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