Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ★★★★

For its faults – with heavy-handed polarization of characters and the limited acting ability of its star – Rise of the Planet of the Apes stuck with me. There’s something about the seed of an apocalyptical event that’s as engaging to my brainwaves as the actual unravelling of civilization. The Planet of the Apes universe has always contained nuggets of interest for me, but until Rise, I wasn’t really hooked in any way.

I went into the theatre with the expectation of the film I wanted to see: witnessing the immediate effects of the spark igniting in the first film’s conclusion: the desperate urgency of catastrophe, widespread panic and contagion, the decline of civilization as we know it, and the folly of man’s ideals as our past is laid to waste and a new future takes over. But this is not that film. It doesn’t show the decline of our civilization in the way I wanted it to, but it does something I think is far more effective – you’ll understand what I mean in the first 3 minutes. In fact, this isn’t a “humanity gets replaced by apes” story at all. Rather, it’s a film about what defines humanity – for better or worse.

Refreshingly, the film is told in majority from the perspective of the apes, not the humans. That’s a big gamble, with the burden being dumped nearly entirely in the hands of the talented visual effects department. But these wizards of pixel and particle absolutely nail it, from the powerful opening shot through to the film’s climactic final moments. There’s just enough backstory from the human cast, carried largely by the efforts of Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman, and the film does an incredible job of contrasting the lives and communities of apes with those of human-kind, all through the lens of its characters.

Something struck me as odd about the film – I didn’t understand what made the film’s pace feel so... off. It seems to crawl and sputter at times, while other points - even long sequences feel properly paced and well-balanced. It took a fellow viewer to point out to me just how much of the film’s dialogue was slowly spoken, or even subtitled (such is the nature of ape language), and these scenes take longer than they perhaps could have, but they are also all the more believable for their proper length. It's a trade-off, for sure, but Michael Giacchino’s score, fortunately, fills in quite a bit of the lag with equal parts mood and motion.

Overall, Dawn is an impressive feat in a lot of ways. It’s another in a growing list of sci-fi films that don’t feel like sci-fi, at least in the traditional sense. What’s more, the hurdles it overcomes are ones it poses only for itself, and that makes the film’s successes all the more impactful.