Director: Matt Reeves
Reviewed: 11 July 2015
It's odd. In a movie that seems disinterested in its human characters, even going so far as to not really foregrounding their names, histories, or relationships, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes asks us to care at the end regarding big revelations and possible life-altering developments? I could not get into it. But the continued story of Caesar (Andy Serkis), the leader of the apes, has its own compelling and quiet dignity. In fact, I think I would rather watch two hours of Caesar and the apes leading their own community, speaking through mostly sign language.
Jason Clarke plays Malcolm, a sympathetic leader of a band of humans foraging in the ape territory for access to a local dam as a possibly power source. A miscast or simply misused Gary Oldman plays Dreyfus, the militant leader back in San Francisco who holds the core group of humanity together, displaying outward strength while grieving for his own lost ones. And Serkis plays Caesar, the most interesting of the entire cast, a leader bent on protecting his family and community, not falling prey to the infection of violence and greed that he sees as human qualities. When Koba, a rival ape, finds his own son injured by a careless human's act, he plots a scheme to betray Caesar and lead the group to all-out war on the remaining humans.
The film is complacent to skim along the surface with its human characters, giving Malcolm's wife Ellie (Keri Russell) essentially nothing to do but show up occasionally with life-giving medical attention, and their son is a practical nonentity without a name (www.imdb.com lists it as Alexander, and he's played by Kodi Smit-McPhee). The fights are brutally staged, and the reversal of humans being held in captivity by apes has some nice moments. The film pays glancing homage to its predecessor through a clumsy home movie with footage of James Franco's character and a return to an abandoned house from the first film. It builds to a brutal fight atop an unfinished building site in downtown San Francisco, with hysterical bombs ready to blow the apes all to hell.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes really could have worked just as well just showing these apes forming their own community and making their way in the world. The technology of the apes is just brilliant; Serkis is completely deserving of an honorary Oscar for his life's work so far, if a motion-capture performance will not be considered equal to a standard one. It ends with a cliffhanger, so I suppose that means a third film is coming down the pike, and I hope that one has a bit more of a sense of how to connect the human story with the ape story so that we care about both. Or, maybe, just jettison the human story completely? But there has to be conflict, of course.