It all started with a novel written in 1963. We’ve journeyed through five theatrical films, two TV series, a misguided attempt to reboot the franchise and then, the true reboot in 2011. Now, this past summer, after we witnessed the rise of the apes, it was time for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
With a good story and solid CGI, it was no surprise that a sequel was announced for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. With the ALZ virus spreading at the end of that film, we were left to wonder if this was the apocalyptic moment of this franchise. Indeed it was. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins ten years after mankind’s civilization has collapsed. Caesar (once again played brilliantly by Andy Serkis) now leads a small society of apes in the Muir Woods, his refuge from the first film. Koba is his second-in-command and is looking for a more aggressive way to lead while orangutan Maurice is still providing words of wisdom for Caesar. Caesar is now married to Cornelia and has a son, Blue Eyes. Our film opens with Blue Eyes and another chimpanzee, Ash, encountering a human in the forest named Carver (Kirk Acevedo, Fringe), who panics and shoots Ash. Carver quickly reunites with his friends while Blue Eyes gets his father and the apes. Caesar asks them to leave and they do. After not seeing or hearing from humans for years, it appears some have survived and could be a threat to their peaceful existence.
The survivors were immune to the ALZ virus and are struggling in the remains of San Francisco. They need electricity and believe a water plant in the forest could provide just that. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Dark Knight) is the war mongering leader of this ragtag group while Malcolm (Jason Clarke, the upcoming Terminator: Genisys) and his wife Ellie (Keri Russell, Dark Skies) are heading up the group that wants to go into the forest to restore power. However, Caesar leads a large group of apes into the city and warns the humans to stay away. Most of the humans are shocked and scared to hear him speak but Malcolm wants another chance to earn the apes trust. Dreyfus gives him three days, during which time he is arming the humans and preparing for war.
Malcolm earns the trust of Caesar, especially after Ellie helps his ailing wife following the birth of their second child. However, just as Malcolm is unaware of Dreyfus’ actions back in San Francisco, Caesar is unaware that Koba has his owns plans for war. With the peace efforts between Caesar and Malcolm being thwarted by both Dreyfus and Koba, the two forces are headed for a confrontation. Ultimately, the final confrontation between Koba and Caesar is reminiscent of Caesar and Aldo from the early 70s, solidifying Caesar’s status as a dynamic leader.
Carrying similar themes seen in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, this movie far surpasses the efforts made back in 1973. The CGI continues to amaze to the point you believe you are looking at real apes. The battle sequences are fantastic and again, outside of the usual moment or two, you really get drawn into the events unfolding on the screen. Matt Reeves assumed the directorial reigns and moves the franchise beyond our modern world, as seen in the first film, into the post-apocalyptic world now jointly ruled by man and ape. Add to that a great soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek) and you have a really fun adventure.
The stage has been set for a third film and, after the huge success of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it is officially coming on July 29, 2016. Sharp eyes will notice that a ship seen in the trailer was nowhere to be seen in the final movie. That’s because it was edited out at the last moment, saving that confrontation for the third film. A ship of survivors is indeed headed to San Francisco and the battle with the apes has just begun. And we should not forget the space mission to Mars mentioned in the first film. That is a storyline not yet resolved. As for James Franco’s character of Dr. Will Rodman, his fate remains unknown. He has a cameo appearance here via a video flashback. While some believe he could return, I believe it’s safe to say he did survive the ALZ virus considering he was at ground zero in the first film.
I highly recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. These two new films have created a fun and entertaining new Apes universe. The charm of the original five films will forever have a special place in my heart and cannot be replaced. But this new franchise is getting everything right and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen them yet. Go watch the trailer for this chapter and plan a double feature once the Blu-ray gets released, most likely in time for the holidays.
This ends our journey through the Planet of the Apes franchise. It’s always fun to go back and revisit these films once every few years or so. Now, we go from one beloved franchise to another. Back in May, a big monster returned to the screen while I was taking some time off. Having reviewed every film in that franchise on this site, I would be remiss if I didn’t go back and review this one. So, next time, it’s time to take a look at Godzilla (2014)!