Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues the reboot of the franchise started in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Thankfully, the sequel ditches the never-not-smug James Franco – barring a quick ‘cameo’ – and makes the slightly bland but likeable Jason Clarke (as Malcolm) its main human instead. The story picks up after a virus has wiped out most of the planet, leaving those who are immune to rebuild society. When a group of these humans, led by Malcolm and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), encounters the group of apes from the first film, lead by Caesar (Andy Serkis), they try to work together. But will their precarious, peaceful cooperation have a happy ending?
The outcome is easy to predict, especially considering that the new entries in the franchise clearly intend to recreate the situation as seen in the original from 1968. This makes the first half of the movie feel slow, because it is obvious where the story is headed. As the characters are introduced, it’s all too easy to figure out what role they will be playing in the screenwriters’ grand scheme. The movie’s message is a depressing one. From a situation of mistrust, peace is hard to reach and maintain. There will always be shortsighted or misguided parties on either side, all too easily derailing things and manipulating the ignorant masses.
The computer animation in this movie is amazing. It doesn’t take long at all to forget that you’re watching digitized beings based on motion-capture performances by actors in odd-looking grey suits with dots on them. Andy Serkis deserves at least an Oscar nomination for his performance as Caesar. The same goes for Toby Kebbell as Caesar’s adversary Koba. Hollywood is still a bit anxious about handing out awards to actors for digitally aided – not straightforward, ‘pure’ – performances, but as this kind of acting will become more prevalent, they’d better get over it.
Dawn is worth seeing for the apes alone. The script won’t blow your mind and/or your socks off, but it’s thoughtful enough for a blockbuster and the movie is a high-quality production. I’m not sure how they will keep the humans vs. apes theme from starting to feel repetitive in the next chapter, but I’m a bit surprised to find myself still on board and looking forward to the inevitable sequel.