Although I was generally satisfied with the quality of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I do have a few minors criticisms to make and one minor plot point that I wish had been included in the film. On many levels Dawn is a brilliant film, and the perfect setup of the world we encountered in the original Planet of the Apes movie. The emerging ape civilization seems very authentic, a mix of human hunter/gatherer societies with many apelike qualities. The CGI apes, played by human actors through sophisticated motion capture techniques, also ring true, and if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences were ever to give away an award for best actor in a motion capture role Andy Serkis would be a shoe in. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the subway scenes reminded me of the setting used in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The film balanced its messages of family and interspecies trust with plenty of well-rendered action and battle sequences.
On a few points, Dawn was more predictable than I would have liked. Once I learned that Keri Russell’s Ellie was a doctor, I knew that she would use her medical knowledge to heal some ape or another who was close to Caesar (Serkis) and endear her party to the ape leader. I also wasn’t surprised that Caesar’s son decided to abandon his father’s peaceful idealism and follow the war-mongering Koba (Toby Kebbell) into conflict with the humans, or that he would later come to regret that decision. It was a good idea for the film to develop this father-son conflict plot among the apes; I just wish the storyline hadn’t been so predictable.
One of the elements that I liked best from the Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the introduction of an engineered virus (developed as an Alzheimer’s cure that had the side effect of enabling the apes to become more intelligent) that turned out to be fatal to humans. The same plot device that gave rise to ape civilization ensured the fall of the human one. The thing that was missing from Dawn was a connection between the virus and human muteness. In the original Planet of the Apes, the human population was incapable of speech. I would have liked to see this as another side effect of the virus among some of the human survivors. Malcolm’s (Jason Clarke) son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) would have been a good choice for this, since he formed a bond with the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) who communicated mostly through sign language, something Alexander would have had to learn if he became mute. It would have been a minor plot point to be sure, but a nice connection to the original film series.