Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

By Peter Towe

Published on Sunday, July 20, 2014


Planet of the Apes has been a pop-culture mainstay for almost fifty years.  Whether you know it or not, Planet of the Apes is part of our collective consciousness and its influences can be seen in all forms of entertainment.  In 2011, the series was rebooted, ten years after Tim Burton’s unsuccessful attempt.  Fans were rightfully cautious, especially in this day-and-age where everything is getting a re-imagining.  But the caution turned into excitement, as to almost everyone’s surprise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was actually a quality movie.  Not only was it a critical hit, but the technical achievements stood on their own.  Andy Serkis transformed the way motion capture technology was used, and in turn created one of the most realistic CGI characters of all time, the star of the show, Caesar.

Andy Serkis came into Planet of the Apes, already well versed in the motion capture technology.  He was of course The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum, and having already played a member of the ape family, with 2005′s King Kong.  Caesar is an intriguing main character, and while their have been CGI motion capture performances in the past, this is the best it’s ever looked.  The CGI is beautiful, and if you put real apes next to some of the movies CGI characters you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference.  Rival to Caesar is another ape Koba, who Caesar saved from the test labs in the 2011 original.  Koba is played brilliantly by Toby Kebbell, who is almost equally as great as Serkis.  Almost, but not entirely.  Adding another character of this magnitude meant more work for the visual effects team, but the results speak for themselves.  Ceasar and Koba have huge story arch’s, and watching the different paths these characters chose is genuinely exciting to watch.  The film accomplishes what it sets out to do, in terms of the visuals, and you forget that your watching CGI mo-cap characters.  They feel real.  The human characters unfortunately feel less authentic.


Human characters on the other hand, were uninteresting and underdeveloped.  But human characters in the franchise seem to be there to serve the story of Caesar, the star of the franchise, so the actors are left without much to do.  At the same time, even though they’re their to service the story, I ultimately wish they were more impactful.  And that’s not a slight on the actors themselves, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and everyone else in the film are and were great, they were just ultimately forgettable.  While I knock some points off for that, at the end of the day, we’re not here to watch the human characters grow or change, it’s the apes story and humans are only background fixtures.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a huge feel to it, yet the story remains contained to the San Fran area featured in the first, and provides a great set-up for future installments to explore.  The film has a focused contained story, which bring the viewers into the action, as opposed to sitting and watching.  Not only does the story bring you into this world, the visuals are amazingly realistic.  The 3D adds depth, and doesn’t feel as gimmicky as one assumes the technology to be (although films are moving towards using 3D for depth rather than tossing objects at the screen, which I still enjoy sparingly).

The Planet of the Apes films, with differing levels of quality, have been able to capture the current state of the cultural zeitgeist, which leaves lingering ideas that stay on your mind.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does exactly what you would want with a reboot, and accomplishes in modernizing the story, and making the best looking Apes film to date, and arguably any CGI that has come before.  There is a bonafide franchise in the works, and the story is intriguing, and like the first one, it tells a complete contained story yet sets up for things to escalate further.  It’s truly an exciting franchise, and hopefully the third installment is even better.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a fun yet dark summer blockbuster, which is the the kind of blockbuster I wish I saw more of.  It’s a very serious film, but still has its funny moments and is able to maintain the stream of action sprinkled throughout its 131 minute runtime.  While it’s certainly not perfect, Dawn is a fun summer blockbuster that will leave you thinking as you walk out of the theater.  It’s not all roses, which end-of-the-world presentations rarely are, yet it’s still an incredibly fun film.  Andy Serkis is of course brilliant, and the technology is at the point that the original films producers could only dream.  At least visually, this is the Planet of the Apes film everyone has wanted to make, and the film we’ve wanted to see.

Directed by Matt ReevesDawn of the Planet of the Apes stars Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee and is now playing in theaters nationwide.

The Good

+ CGI is beautiful

+ Serkis kills it again

+ Sets up franchise, yet tells great contained story

The Bad

- Human characters underdeveloped


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