This summer has seen its fair share of sequels that have either matched or risen above their predecessors. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” expanded upon the drama set up by “First Class,” “22 Jump Street” had more of the self-awareness and goofiness that made the first film so charming, and even the sequel to “How to Train Your Dragon” continues to enjoy the first film’s critical and commercial success. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the highly-anticipated sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is no different. “Dawn” surpasses the achievements of “Rise” and is not your average summer blockbuster.
In this sequel, taking place 15 years after the events of “Rise,” the scientist-created virus has spread all over the world and killed most of the population, save for a few who were genetically immune. Meanwhile, Caesar has become the leader of a sophisticated colony of apes and has his own family to look after. Over the years, the fear and animosity shared between humans and apes has only grown, and when humans come into contact with these highly intelligent simians, the actions of the ignorant few from both sides threaten everyone’s safety.
The special effects are top notch, but that goes without saying. They provide the spectacle that seems to be a requirement for big summer movies. As captivating as the effects may be, however, they are not the focus of the film’s entertainment value. Unlike most summer blockbusters, “Dawn” is an intensely dramatic powerhouse dealing with many weighty themes. Many scenes highlight the complexities of ignorance and loss, distrust in your own people as well as your enemies, and the difficulties of two opposing forces finding peace. The dystopian world the characters inhabit is bleak, and many characters share a similar disposition towards their future, but every time blind fear threatens to lead to conflict, the film gives the audience a reason for hope. It is this sort of tonal balance that gives the film vitality and strength.
Because the film focuses on the drama of the story rather than stylish action sequences, the result is an action/sci-fi movie with more emotional heft than most. Additionally, because there are so few action sequences, the film feels like a ticking time bomb, building up nail-biting suspense that makes every scene of conflict that much more explosive in intensity. All of these factors are evidence of this film’s uncommon intelligence for a summer blockbuster, with all of the credit going to screenwriters Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.
What truly brings the film to life, however, are the evolved apes and the actors responsible for their portrayals, thanks to motion capture technology. Andy Serkis, who was responsible for the portrayal of Caesar in “Rise,” once again proves his worth and delivers another master class performance. Having also portrayed Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of the 1933 classic, Serkis continues to prove that he is a truly gifted performer. Thankfully, Serkis is supported by strong performances from some of the other evolved apes, such as Tony Kebbell as Koba and Karin Korneval as Maurice. What remains impressive is the physicality required for these performances, and the actors prove themselves more than capable.
Nearly two months ago, I proclaimed “X-Men: Days of Future Past” to be the best summer film that had come out. Well, that has proved to be a premature prediction. As far as mainstream Hollywood cinema goes, “Dawn” is the best film you will see all summer. Nothing else on the release schedule looks to match what this film has accomplished. For now, the apes have taken over, and like the film itself, they are smarter than they appear.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4