Matt Reeves was given the nod to bring Caesar and his army of apes back to the big screen in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and man did he leave one hell of a fingerprint on the franchise once all was said and done. For my money this is one of the best films in the franchise since we saw the beach-covered remains of the Statue of Liberty in 1968. The sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes picks up a decade after the devastating Simian Flu wiped out most of the human race. The human survivors and the growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar try to find peace, but are ultimately brought to the brink of a war.
Reeves opens the film up with an in-tight shot of the unmistakable eyes of Caesar, a now much more mature ape who has taken on the role of a leader. And what a leader he turned out to be. Reeves makes it clear as to who the center of the film is right away as he starts his story out with a strong, bold and touching look at the apes. It becomes immediately clear how far the apes have come since the outbreak, and the bond between Caesar and his pack is undeniably strong. They’re a family now, which is a huge element to the film that Reeves nailed perfectly. The apes have established a stable way of living with a place they can now call home, deep within the woods living peacefully. That is, until the humans show up.
The big conflict in the film, essentially, is how can humans and apes possibly live together in this new world? Is it even possible? The answer is, unfortunately, no. This was huge for the movie because it’s exactly the kind of story that we needed for a sequel. They could have easily thrown the apes and humans into the ring and let them battle it out for 2 hours and left it at that. Thankfully, Reeves was much more interested in giving us a reason to actually care about the outcome for not only the apes, but the humans as well. It turns out we’re all assholes in the end, and it only takes a single person, or ape for that matter, to ruin any hope of peace between the two.
Although Dawn is being hailed as a blockbuster, it’s actually so much more than that. In fact, calling it one doesn’t do it any justice. The pacing is spot on as it favors the story of the apes—as it should—but also pays close attention to what the humans are going through and how they have become so desperate over the years. There’s a fantastic point made in the film about how the apes are now so much stronger than the human race simply because they can thrive off the land without much effort. And I love that because it’s so very true. Although it’s just a simple line of dialog that comes and goes within a second, it carries so much weight by making the human race—once so powerful and strong—look so fragile. Because of that, you’re taken through the wringer on an emotional level that carries throughout the entire film. It simply comes down to great story telling, and there’s certainly a great story being told in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
And wrapped up inside of this great story is a brilliant display of special effects that paint a breathtaking picture of the film. Seriously, this is some of the best uses of CGI blended with a real environment that I’ve ever seen. The apes come to life on the screen in a way that almost never seemed possible, and once they start baring their fangs and shouting orders it sent chills down my spine. Their booming, powerful voices was a thing of beauty, so much so that every time Caesar spoke a word it completely silenced the theater. It was f*cking awesome, it’s as simple as that. And then there was the action, so flawless and captivating. It’s amazing that this film was able to dish out a brilliant dose of thrills while still managing to pull at all the heart strings. Reeves absolutely nailed it with this one and for that, I couldn’t be happier. Hail, Caesar!