Dawn! That period where the day struggles to come into being. Where the world holds its breath to see if the sun will rise and afford us one more day.
These are the tensions which await the cautious viewer of the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) the reboot to wipe out the reboot of the infamous Planet of the Apes movie series starring Roddy McDowell as the Ape Cornelius and then his son Caesar.
Dawn opens ten years after Rise with a devastating turn of events from the first movie. The ALZ113 drug which gave intelligence to the Bonobo Koba one of the main protagonists of Dawn also proved to have fatal side effects to humans and in the dawn of this movie we see that humanity has broken down in the wake of this epidemic. Very few humans remain. Maurice, Caesar’s Orangutan adviser and Caesar himself reflect on the fact that they have not seen humans near their forest city for nearly two years. During a morning fishing expedition, Caesar’s son Blue Eyes and his friend Ash come upon a human who shoots Ash in confusion. This sparks tensions between Apes and humans living in San Francisco. These humans have a genetic immunity to the virus and have attempted to rebuild their civilization. The one thing the humans need to rebuild is power. This power can be generated by a dam which is in Ape territory.
What follows in this movie is a story of survival. The humans desperate to recapture what was and trying to deal with the rise of intelligent Apes who can communicate with them and are ultimately more powerful than them. The Apes are desperate to hold fast to the society they have built in the ten years since their escape from human captivation and first establishing their home in the forest on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. What survival means for both races is to learn to trust the other. This becomes especially difficult since certain Apes have only a history of hatred for humans and the Ape Koba is certainly the fuel for mistrust on the Apes part. The humans on the other hand have a natural fear of the unknown and they still blame the Apes for the virus which has in the interval been unwitting called ‘Simian Flu.’
The themes which flow in this movie are quite astonishing and the Apes are given real life with the amazing performance capture technique which has given Andy Serkis a free reign in films such as these where a non-human needs to be given real life-like qualities. In spite of Andy being the go-to guy for these sorts of movies, is performance as Caesar is inspiring. He truly captures the struggle Caesar has with balancing his duty to his people, his wife and his children, and to the greater cause of peace. Caesar wrestles with what it is to be an Ape and watching him perform alongside the human characters, there’s a great sense of realism about every scene.
Here at UTBGeek however, we’re not so much interested in the finer points of the creative process (which I could go on with forever) but the finer details of Science Fiction. In the original movie and television series, the Apes were evolved forms of their present day ancestors and in a twist, it was an evolved Ape from the future who leads his evolving brethren in revolt against their human captors. In this series, it is due to man’s desire to overcome nature that the Apes gain their intelligence and sentience. This seems to work much more effectively as a vehicle since it is becoming apparent in science fiction that we are more inclined to believe that man will be ultimately responsible for his own destruction. It is fascinating to note that this movie comes as we gain greater understanding of the way in which homo-sapiens, neanderthals and homo-erectus functioned together during the period in which they shared the planet as dominant hominids. It will also be with some irony that humanity as it currently stands realise that we are the dominant species through violence. Can Apes and humanity co-exist is the question the filmmakers unwittingly put before us. Is humanity the end of the road or is there something more readily capable of living on this planet as it was meant to be. One of the most poignant things that the humans take note of is that the Apes don’t need power to survive. One of the other science fiction themes which comes along is whether the Apes are capable of being an improvement over humanity? Should humanity face certain extinction, will they be supplanted by something better?
This movie leaves you holding your breath with these questions and fills you with anticipation of a third installment because you really want to know the answers. The struggle for survival has just begun and the cast and crew of this film have done an excellent job of putting us on the edge of our seats almost as if our own survival depends on the possibility this trilogy will bring.
Standout performances from Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis make their characters worth emotionally investing in. Keri Russell is wonderful as a former CDC nurse who is the make or break point in a family newly created out of tragedy attempting to survive in the new world. The only weak point I saw was Enrique Murciano as Kemp, the main source of tension between Malcolm’s (Jason Clarke) band who gain access to work on the dam and the Apes of Ape city. Matt Reeves’ direction is inspiring and deserves more recognition than I believe it will receive.
Don’t miss this movie in the cinema’s. No matter how good your TV, it just won’t compete. The philosophical discussion it generates is far more than worth the price of admission.