If questions of loyalty, friendship, peace, and cooperation – and the backbone often necessary to living them – appeal to you, then give Dawn a go. If you enjoy an unflinching allegory to the world outside one’s door, then give Dawn a go. And if you enjoy the work of the most under-recognized actor of our generation, then by all means, give Dawn a go.
Even if you’re not a franchise fan, or you’re not averse to it per se but have yet to see any of them, still give Dawn a go.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes stands as a solid installment in its mythos yet exists in its own right, as a stellar reflection of every cultural or national conflict in our world today (arguably, ever). If the love of money is the root of all evil, then the lust for dominance is its close second.
Given the inability of some to live in peaceful coexistence, of others to insist on two (or three, or four) pieces of the pie, and of still others unwilling to set aside the damage of those transgressions and take up a clean (albeit wiser) slate, we all suffer the fate we see onscreen. Dawn never preaches, but in its authenticity, it resounds.
Here we step into northern California ten years after the Simian Flu pandemic that very nearly extinguished humanity and resulted in heightened primate cognitive and linguistic ability. Our hero Caesar has led his primate community well, instilling in its people a well-ordered, cooperative, and just society nestled within Muir Woods. Humankind hasn’t fared as well, now deprived (or so it believes) of electrical power and the connection and comforts it affords.
Days away from running out of fuel, a struggling human colony in San Francisco proper decides to make a last ditch attempt to restore functionality to a dam north of the city… i.e., in the vicinity of Muir Woods. (Fans of The Stand will share the chill specter of restoring a world before restoring what destroyed it.) When the human team encounters a pair of young apes out on an excursion, both communities become aware of the other’s existence, and neither much likes what it sees.
Thus commences a fragile pursuit of peace between Caesar and the human team’s leader, Malcolm, which escalates into armed conflict when less diplomatic members of each community reject such measures and begin forcing what they feel to be solutions (whomever prevails, I’ll bet the poor horses were thinking, “Jeesh, we can’t seem to catch a break!”).
Oscar nominations will no doubt abound with regard to visual and special effects; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is inarguably one of the finest of its kind with regard to action sequences and visual execution. Leads Jason Clarke and Keri Russell enjoy perfect chemistry as Caesar’s counterparts, and I sound like a broken record but shall not stop until satisfied that the incomparable Andy Serkis deserves Oscar contention. Not as a stop motion actor, not as a creature, but as an actor. An actor. No qualification required.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes couches many interesting inquires amid its spectacular action sequences. Issues of prejudice and worth based on power echo Snowpiercer, and questions of trust and choice echo those of Third Person (I told you you might be surprised!). It forces us to confront the quandary of who is “good” and who is “bad”, demands that we fully evaluate motive and forgiveness in our assignment of blame, and make sure we deem blameworthy those who actually are, in fact, accountable.
It lays before us the conundrum wherein everyone comes from a valid viewpoint yet brings death to all concerned; wherein even eminent justification argues against vengeance should the common good matter at all. And that nobility is borne of an individual’s character, and not of his or her culture, race, or species.
Arthur Koestler said, “Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears.” Caesar and Malcolm have this well in hand, but each one’s sidekick disagrees with his methods, confusing reactivity with power and steadfastly refusing to consider the possibility that he harbors perhaps not even wrong, but certainly incomplete ideas about his adversary.
Exploring all with astonishing and relentless tension (right up there with Bound, and the testament to its execution), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes invites us each to reflect upon our own philosophy, before someone starts something someone else won’t forgive…