Fear and misunderstanding thrust us away from one another, isolating us into like groups where we further inflame the differences between “us” and “them”. “We are not like them; they will never be like us,” is a toxic thought that can rumble through our minds. In the name of tolerance, we set up physical boundaries, or battle lines, which allows for a hollow harmony to exist between us and them. Throughout the course of history, whether it’s motivated by race, gender, creed or sexual preference, we’ve segmented ourselves. Unfortunately, in our noble attempts to coexist across our perceived sovereign lines, people have suffered through disgusting acts of violence and oppression because any level of integration or commiseration signals the death of the life we established.
This notion is the spark behind the unfurling war between man and ape in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a ferocious, unrelenting blockbuster that cuts deep. Taking place ten years after its predecessor, Dawn.. finds the human population decimated by the simian flu. As humans live a disheveled existence in dilapidated cities, the ever evolving apes, lead by the stoic Caesar (Andy Serkis), have etched out a relative paradise in the Muir Woods. No longer under man’s control, Caesar and his clan of apes have found peace through isolation. The life Caesar has crafted for his community is challenged, though, when a group of humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) find their resources (namely power) quickly vanishing. With the ape community resting on a defunct dam, Malcolm diligently rebuilds a rapport with Caesar and his kin, hoping the fearless leader will give the humans one last shot at prosperity.
As alluded to, the trust between the two factions erodes, as an assortment of bad choices and misunderstandings ignite an all out war, in spite of Caesar and Malcolm’s efforts to squelch the senseless carnage. For being a blockbuster film, Dawn… is a surprisingly bleak film that gnaws at our soul. Director Matt Reeves, as well as a fantastic screenplay, refuses to pull us away from the senseless beatings both sides put each other through. Instead, he tosses us in the middle of the conflict, forcing us to feel the endless bedlam. What’s more impressive is the lack of a villain within the film. The real villain is misconception, as characters make irrational, violent decisions based on half-truths. Because both sides are so richly drawn and distinguished, the action is emotionally potent. We are inevitably invested in both sides as they march toward a bloody, foregone conclusion. Michael Giacchino’s haunting, oppressive score, in spite of some playful cues, amplifies the anger, the loss, and the sorrow emanating from the struggle.
Outside of their emotional pull, Reeves stages the battle scenes in a thrilling way, with many of them pivoting around the dexterous, free-flowing limbs of the apes. And much like its predecessor, Dawn… is a technical marvel. The creation of the apes, especially Caeser, through motion capture not only installs life into characters emanating from computers, but allows for a seamless connection between practical and generated effects. Andy Serkis’ performance leaps off the screen, providing us a look into the mind of a king caught between what’s good for his people and the world at large. From this vantage point, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes plays like a tragedy, where a handful of people desperately attempt to reconcile the hollow inequities between man and ape. Unfortunately, venomous attitudes further embolden territorial lines, establishing a horrific future for which we can’t turn away from.