EXPECTATION: 4/5 stars
PROS: Good story, amazing CGI, good acting
CONS: Generic execution, slow pace, predetermined outcome makes it hard to fully enjoy, adds little to the franchise
In 2011′s “Rise” director Rupert Wyatt added a whole lot to the franchise: the origins of what exactly kick started this whole ‘humans dying off and apes taking over’ thing. Now Matt Reeves sits in the directors chair and we wonder what exactly he has to add to the mix that will be just as relevant as the last film. In short: nothing.
“Dawn” is a somewhat Shakespearean addition to the ‘Apes’ story, following Caesar and his struggle between being leader of the apes while trying to keep in touch with his soft spot for the humans. It sounds better on paper than it actually does when executed, starting off as a very smart film but as it progresses we realize it has gone through the “summer blockbuster filter”; many “it goes without saying” moments end up having their own heavy handed scenes, making the 2 hour and 10 minute film feel a lot closer to 3 hours. Especially when most of those scenes are done through subtitles since the apes are forced to speak to each other via sign language.
The two leads are Malcom, one of the last human survivors, and of course there’s also Caesar. The film spends an unnecessary amount of time trying to make it clear that there are many correlations between both of our main characters, sometimes to the point where it feels like it’s waving it in front of your face, dulling the effect. It leaves little for you to figure out yourself, taking what was otherwise a fairly complex character study and dumbing it down for the sake of being an accessible summer blockbuster. But the brain is still there in spirit, hidden deep within the humanized CGI character of Caesar. He’s intriguing to watch to a point where we want to know what happens to him next. It’s easy to care about the decisions he makes and his place in both worlds, but it never feels like he’s strong enough to carry this movie through its full 2 hours. The film thinks otherwise.
“Dawn” offers false hope of a resolution that we know doesn’t exist, forgetting that we already know how this all turns out. That knowledge sort of cancels out most of the movie, leaving me to wonder why the writers didn’t spend more time on a less “hope for humans” story and more on literally anything else.
You would think that given my background in guilty pleasure action movies that my favorite parts would be seeing the Apes in action, but instead those are the moments that killed it for me. Once I saw an ape with a gun, riding a horse, shooting with complete accuracy, the image became a bit shattered, breaking the trance between me and the screen.
Visually the film is a great treat, building upon the fantastic CGI capabilities that the last one introduced to us. The apes look amazing and Caesar really comes alive in every scene. I saw it in 3D and felt it added little to the movie, suffering from the common ‘darkened image’ of the 3D glasses. But without being able to compared it to the 2D version, I can’t say which one is better. The acting is great on all parts but the directing felt a little generic, surprisingly so, considering it was directed by “found footage” pioneer Matt Reeves (Cloverfield).
Overall “Dawn” is a smart enough movie to satisfy the cinema lover, and a generic enough movie to satisfy the typical moviegoer. Just like Caesar though, it balances on the fence between the two, unsure of which identity to pick. Regardless, there’s plenty to enjoy and little to think about. You can turn your brain off and let the movie do its thing, tell its story, and feel like it’s fooling you into thinking that humans actually have a chance.
“Dawn” spoon feeds us all the way to through its 2 hour run time, telling a shakespearean tale of Caesar and his struggle to choose between humans and apes. But with a predetermined resolution and many heavy handed moments, it’s hard to become completely lost in the movie, making this film feel far less necessary than its predecessor. But it keeps its entertainment level in tact and it’s definitely a feast for the eyes.