Generally speaking, we like to take the weekly Queue feature to draw your attention to a worthy film that may have flown under your radar while it was in theaters. But one of our favorite blockbusters of the year comes out this week with little real competition for attention, so may we instead recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?
Equally successful as political allegory and popcorn muncher, the sequel takes the themes and emotional merit of its predecessor and turns them into something grander, more epic and even more amazing.
The obvious double bill is Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 Apes prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Heartbreaking because of green screen magician Andy Serkis’s magnificent performance as Caesar, the clever kick that restarted a franchise is not as smooth or as epic as its sequel, but there is an aching humanity in it that resonates.
You can officially forget Dr. Zaius. In fact, if you think Rupert Wyatt’s impressive Rise of the Planet of the Apes from 2011 was the best that particular series could possibly do, you can forget that, too. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an evolution to a far superior breed of film artistically, visually and emotionally.
The devastating truths of prejudice, bias, fear and powerlust are the foundational planks of any great piece of political theater, dating back to Shakespeare (fittingly) and before. Director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield), along with his team of writers, respects this. It is respect for the content that elevated the previous installment so far above franchise efforts as well as audience expectations.
With that respect and those expectations now established, Reeves picks up Wyatt’s themes and expands them with breathtaking expertise. The Simian Flu – the virus that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis) and other lab apes exceeding intelligence – proved catastrophic to the human population. Ten years after the outbreak and the “incident on the Golden Gate Bridge”, the apes are thriving in their own society in a forest beyond the city. Meanwhile, what’s left of the city’s human population struggles to survive.
Wisely, Reeves doesn’t pick sides, and in leaving judgment behind we’re able to see this thrilling Man V Ape escapade for its larger historical and human relevance.
These elements coursing beneath the surface of his film help to explain its profound impact, but it’s what’s layered on top that thrills.
In utterly stunning 3D, Reeves fills the expanse of his screen with fascinating and startling images, action sequences and set pieces at once familiar and unlike anything else unspooling this summer. Once again, you forget that half the drama before you erupts between CGI images and trained animals – the image is that true, the drama that compelling.
Dawn is as convincing on every front, even when it has no business succeeding. It is so loud, brutal, and committed to its premise that you cannot but surrender to the chaos. Equally successful as summer blockbuster and political allegory, the film is as well written in both arenas as any you will find.
Darker, more intense and deeply satisfying, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes a good thing and makes it better.