Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best sequels ever
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an astonishing achievement. The easiest way to describe it would be to say it is the best sequel since The Dark Knight.
When it was announced that Hollywood was rebooting Planet of the Apes, no one had any interest. No one wanted to see an action movie featuring monkeys. The whole business looked truly stupid in Tim Burton’s 2001 movie and there seemed to be only a slim chance of improvement. But then Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes came along, and it turned out to be a surprisingly well made film. It wasn’t just an ‘origin story’, it was a layered and at times moving film with an ape named Caesar as the (anti) hero.
And if you liked the first film and thought there was no need of a sequel or assumed there was no way a sequel could be any better than part one, I have five words for you: prepare to be blown away.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredible, astonishing achievement. The easiest, laziest simile to describe it would be to say it is the best sequel since The Dark Knight, but it is that. It left me with the the same maddening, crystalline pure cinematic thrill as The Dark Knight. Let me explain now why I need Caesar’s poster and director Matt Reeves’s autograph at the earliest.
Generally, a Hollywood sequel is an attempt to steal some money from you – there is little effort involved in the filmmaking and tons of money thrown in marketing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not that kind of a sequel. This movie was made by a bunch of ballsy people, who have done their damnedest to make sure you have a special experience at the cinema.
Right from the opening scene, featuring a close up shot of Caesar’s eyes, it becomes clear that this is not a standard issue action movie. It’s different in style and tone compared to its predecessor, and there is a tense, powerful surge of emotion throughout its narrative. There are no dialogues in the first 15 minutes, yet Reeves weaves the narrative smoothly, establishing that it’s been ten years since the previous film. Now, the humans are dead and the Apes have colonised the world. We follow Caesar’s life as the leader of the apes. We’re introduced to the other characters in his colony, like his son River, his lieutenant Rocket, his advisor Koba, his friend Maurice and Rocket’s son, Ash. I remember the names of these relatively minor characters – that’s how gripping this film is.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback’s script contains rich, emotional character development, and actual conflict between the characters. Social commentary and political themes garnish the film so well that at one point, you may well wonder why a movie about apes is so smart and layered. And I’ll have you know that a scene featuring a father and son ape will move you to tears. Big manly tears.
The conflict in the film is not just between the humans and apes, but also between the apes themselves as well as among the humans. Every single character in the film, ape or human, is rounded and substantial.
Still, the one truly bearing of the weight of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is Caesar. Caesar’s ascension in this film is epic, to say the least. There are many shots of Caesar that feel iconic, and Andy Serkis who plays Caesar in a motion-capture suit captures the subtlest of simian moves experly. Watch the behind the scenes YouTube videos of the movie and you’ll know Serkis’ performance in this film is the reason why the Academy needs to revise its rules on Oscar nominations.
The feat that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would never have been possible without the insane special effects by Weta. I don’t recall the names of the humans in the film, but I can tell you what every ape in the film looks and sounds like. The motion capture is so detailed that the apes exude more nuance than the human actors. When an ape character feels betrayal, or loss, or anger, or pain, you feel for them.
The human actors are impeccably cast too – Jason Clarke feels perfectly cast as the bridge between the apes and the humans. Whether it’s Gary Oldman or Keri Russel or Kodi Smit-McPhee, none of the actors seem to be simply performing, They all serve a purpose in the story and they’re embellished into the film rather than ‘acting’ in it. Michael Giacchino’s haunting music along with the inventive sound design adds subtlety to the dramatic scenes.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just better than its predecessor, it also reminds you why you go to the cinema to see movies. This film is one of the best this year will deliver. The future of summer blockbusters is in Reeves’ good hands.
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