Following on the heels of the entertaining and successful 2011 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes’”, this motion picture was supposed to take the humanity vs. ape conflict to a whole new level of fervor. The bitterness and meanness of the apes was expected to escalate, while the few humans who survived the Simian Flu outbreak gathered and plotted a strategy to dominate once again. Instead, the “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” storyline gets stretched out to the point of appearing artificial and lackadaisical.
Director Matt Reeves (who will also direct “Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3” in 2016) focused this film on the internal dynamics and power struggles within the ape colony in the woods, located just outside San Francisco. Caesar, the charismatic ape leader who we last saw saying good-bye to James Franco’s character in 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, is the movie’s best feature—by far. Reeves, acknowledging Caesar’s exceptional screen influence throughout the film, begins and ends the movie with close-up shots of his main star. However, the noteworthy and powerful performances in Dawn start and stop with Caesar.
The cast in the film is stale and minimized by an ape-driven plot, leaving viewers hard-pressed to name any human characters besides architect/negotiator Malcolm (played by Jason Clarke). While little investment takes place in Malcolm’s background story, we’re told even less about Gary Oldman and Keri Russell in the movie. Without more information on the human faces in the drama, Reeves makes this a single-dimension story on only the apes—significantly diminishing the main catalyst to all ‘Planet of the Apes’ stories.
It’s apparent early in the film that ‘Dawn’ will avoid relying on the bread and butter success of the Ape chain—wholesale conflict between humans and apes for which audiences have come to expect. Alternatively, a mutually agreed coexistence ceasefire strategy unfolds following the first skirmish between the two foes. Rather than continue the uneasiness and distaste for one another–probing each camp’s strongholds–Reeves decides to save that all-out meltdown for the next film in this “Apes” series. The result of Reeves running out the clock on this movie is a storyline and mission that seem stretched and unfulfilling.
The human desire to gain access to a power-generating dam in the ape-controlled woodlands is a diluted, misplaced theme. That’s the best Reeves could muster to bring both species to the brink of war? After the early discovery of one another at the start, the humans (and Reeves) embark down the path of respectful neighbors living in cohabitation. It’s not until the real distrust between the two groups percolates once again that the movie begins to entertain and show signs of life. Likewise, a nice connection by Reeves to Franco’s researcher character in the previous film ‘Rise’ gives audiences a small dose of continuity.
The greatness of the ‘Apes’ original handful of movies in the 1960s and early 70s was the lethal relationship and epic survival scenes they generated over which race would conquer the other first. This film started off with such promise—as a small group of humans accidently stumbles across the ape masses. Unfortunately, the film’s only real rebels were Caesar’s best friend and his son. As for the rest, well, that will have to come in 2016 with ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3’.
Great cinematography and computer-generated imagery can’t carry a thinly stretched storyline with weak human characters. Caesar, for the second ‘Ape’ film in a row, carried this feature with his sign language and striking glares. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” kicks the coexistence problem between humans and apes down the street until ‘Rise’ 3 in two years. In the meantime, this film settles for setting the table on the next motion picture and leaving viewers unsatisfied and with no resolution. Unfortunately, this waters down each parcel of the ‘Apes’ masterpiece just a bit more. And at this rate, I’ll be hoping to see “Sunset of the Planet of the Apes’ coming to theaters soon.