‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review

Published 10 months ago by , Updated October 7th, 2014 at 1:14 am,

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Reviews starring Andy Serkis and Gary Oldman Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

A third installment is a must, as it (literally) looks like these Apes are only getting better (and smarter) with each new installment.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up a decade after the milestone events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, revealing a new world order in which genetically-enhanced ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) has successfully established an ape colony in the wilderness outside of San Francisco. With a family by his side and a tribe to lead and protect, Caesar feels content with the life he chose amongst his fellow apes. However, when evidence of humanity’s survival comes (literally) walking up to the apes’ doorstep, the situation changes quickly – and drastically.

After meeting the kind and intelligent Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Caesar is forced to confront emotions about humanity he thought he’d left behind. But while Caesar still remembers the good in humans, his friend and lieutenant, Koba (Toby Kebbell), only remembers the cruel savagery of being their lab rat. In Koba’s eye, Malcolm and the human stronghold he comes from are all deadly threats to apes; meanwhile, on the human side, war-worn human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) feels much the same way about the apes. With factions of their respective camps angling for conflict, Malcolm and Caesar try to find common ground between man and ape, so that both species may live peacefully on what is left of the earth.

Gary Oldman in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Gary Oldman in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was nothing less than a dark horse success story. It took an exhausted sci-fi property (which Tim Burton had already failed to reinvent for the 21st century) and gave it a compelling and moving restart bolstered by some revolutionary motion-capture performances – most notably that of actor Andy Serkis as Caesar. Well, it’s easy to report that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes takes everything great about the first film and kicks it up to a higher level, resulting in one of the best (and most technically proficient) films of the year.

In short: This is the best film in the Planet of the Apes series, and a film that once again raises the question of whether or not motion-capture performers deserve the same awards considerations as any other actor.

Andy Serkis as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Andy Serkis as Caesar in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

The sequel trades Rise director Rupert Wyatt for Cloverfield and Let Me In director Matt Reeves – a trade that turns out to be for the better. From the very first image to the very last, Reeves makes the bold choice to make the apes his primary focus – an extremely daunting task (narratively and technologically) which he rises to meet, and then, conquers. The world of the film feels like a natural extension of where Rise left us, but it is so well-designed and technically sound that the spectacle of seeing it is, in and of itself, worth the price of admission (and the 3D upgrade). This is one of those visual event films you want to experience in full theatrical glory.

More than that, though, Dawn is proficient as a piece of cinema. In fact, calling it a “blockbuster” is a limiting term, as the film is arguably on the level of an Oscar-bait drama. There are moments in the movie of brilliant visual shorthand and iconographic imagery; awesome visual and audio nods to sci-fi greats like Stanley Kubrick (Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino’s score shines in such moments); action set pieces that are thankfully more competent (but still just as epic and gorgeous) as Michael Bay’s Transformers; even comedy and horror beats that are extremely effective at keeping things light and scary, respectively.

Tying it all together is a well-crafted and focused character drama with relevant socio-political overtones, which uses an outlandish premise to address something important about the state of the world and the human condition – in the way that only quality sci-fi can. Credit goes to The Wolverine writer Mark Bomback for helping Rise writers Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa truly expand upon the Caesar character and his world and how all of it is relevant to ours. This film – in a way not seen since the original PoTA – makes highly effective use of its sci-fi metaphor.

Kirck Acavedo Kerri Russell Jason Clarke and Kodi Smit McPhee in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

The Human Cast of ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

The human cast – Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Gary Oldman, Keri Russell (The Americans) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) – are given the hard task of having to play supporting characters in an ape-led film, while still presenting more than one-note “evil human” caricatures. Credit goes to Clarke and Oldman in particular – but all of the principal homo sapiens are able to convincingly infer the deep trauma and desperation lurking just beneath the re-established veil of civilization. We are able to know and relate to the human players without ever really knowing them; a crucial piece of the puzzle that creates a necessary complexity to the different sides of the ape/human conflict, and elevates the story to a much higher and more compelling level of drama.

Of course, what everyone will leave this film talking about are the motion-capture ape performances, and lead ape actors Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell deserve awards consideration for their work in this film. By now it’s almost considered a t-shirt slogan to say that Andy Serkis deserves an award for creating memorable motion-capture characters like Gollum, King Kong and Caesar – what’s there to add except that Caesar in Dawn is Serkis’ (and Weta’s) most complex, nuanced, and visually-impressive creation yet? Keep printing those t-shirts, I guess. One day he’ll get the acclaim he so clearly deserves…

Caesar Andy Serkis and Koba Toby Kebbell in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Koba (Toby Kebbell) in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

The real revelation in the film, however, is Toby Kebbell (Prince of Persia) as Koba. The Caesar/Koba arc is the most dynamic and emotional in the film, and Kebbell is almost frighteningly good bringing the (literally and figuratively) scarred ape to life through motion-capture performance (keyword: performance). Moments like watching Kebbell play an intelligent ape who is pretending to be an un-intelligent ape may boggle your mind as it did mine; a film is only as good as its villain, and Kebbell makes Koba a great one. (Expectations for his role as Doctor Doom in The Fantastic Four reboot have now gone way up). At the risk of playing favorites, let it be said that there are plenty of other actors – Judy Greer, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, Kirk Acevedo – who also deserve credit for bringing the supporting ape and human characters to life. It’s a really solid cast all around.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an undeniable one-two punch of a winning movie; it’s the type of milestone spectacle film that is a must-see in theaters – it just so happens that it’s also one of the best (and awards-worthy) films of the year. A third installment is a must, as it (literally) looks like these Apes are only getting better (and smarter) with each new installment.



MORE: DotPotA Director Interview


Dawn of the Planet of the Apesis now playing in theaters. It is 130 minutes long, and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

Want to talk about the film without SPOILING it for others? Head over to our Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Spoiler Discussion. Want to hear the editors discuss the film? Tune in to our Dawn of the Planet of the Apes episode of the #SRUnderground Podcast.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

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  1. This movie is not as good as the first.

    It is a terrific movie. A good instalment but anyone going in expecting things to be better may be disappointed.

    • Yeah.. everyone I went with thought exactly the opposite.

      • Exactly? So they thought it was a bad movie but better than the last.

        • Everyone else is normal. Everyone else knows it’s better than the first, easily.

          • You have interviewed everyone who has seen the film. You are good.

        • no mate, he means the opposite of what YOU SAID. In other words. people he went with loved it more than the first and its better than the first.

    • It’s miles better than the first. End of.

    • I liked it SO much better than the first one and I LOVED the first one. Everyone I saw it with had the same EXACT sentiment as me. But its OK if you didn’t like DotPotA as much as you liked RotPotA. That’s why they’re called “opinions”. There really is no accounting for taste (or lack thereof). Have a good one.

    • I liked it much better than the first, and everybody I know also agrees. But obviously that’s just our opinion, I can understand why people like the first better, I just don’t necessarily agree. Dawn is atmospheric, emotional, intense, philosophical, and the visual effects actually looked realistic. Rise was an entertaining, but it wasn’t nearly as powerful I thought. Dawn managed to be political without being pretentious, and it managed to be exciting while being both intelligent and emotionally powerful.


    • Wrong.

  2. The first one was good but this was fantastic! Andy Serkis most definitely deserved top billing. Maybe the Academy can get it’s head out of it’s @ss and maybe he can at least get nominated.

  3. the story itself was pretty generic, but the visuals and the deeper message (story and character wise) was amazing.

    it would be really cool if the 3rd (and final) ape movie tied everything into the original apes movie (the mars space explorer dude mentioned in rise of apes is still in space after all).

  4. One of the years best without a doubt.

  5. This is definitely one of the best films of the year. However, there were a few relationships I wished they explored more. One of them being the relationship between Rocket and Caesar as well as Rocket’s relationship with his own son, Ash. They built up on this relationship in interviews, but never quite got the chance to explore it. I agree completely though that the highlight of the film was the feud between Caesar and Koba. There were a lot of emotional moments in the film which brought me to tears during the film. Overall a solid film that I highly recommend.

  6. Best movie ever, I loved it

  7. I just got home from seeing this film. I am a huge fan. The acting is suburb. IMO they wrote the apes characters as if they were human. They did not shy away from the ape-human emotions that Serkis and others are brought to life. Toby Kebbell did steal the show (Koba). His performance was inspiring.

    Anyone else think it was cool how towards the end while outside, you could see the fur of Ceasar and Koba blowing in the wind? It all felt very real. I am impressed and will be buying that on blu-ray. I am looking forward to seeing what they do with a third installment.

    • The acting was suburb? Don’t you mean the acting was superb?

    • This is the best movie of all time to be quite honest I thought Andy Serkis deserves an oscar his performance was just fantastic! I thought dawn of the apes was better than rise because Caesar wanted peace and didn’t want another war and protecting his family . Caesar is a loyal, strong leader. I fell in love with this movie . I love how Malcom, Ellie, Alexander were to trying to help Caesar and being nice to the other apes well except for Koba he is an awful ape . Honestly I’m glad Caesar let go of koba when he fell off the tower. If you haven’t see this movie it’s the most inspiring movie . Keri Russell is an amazing actress I thought she did amazing and so did Jason Clarke. This was the best movie of 2014. Caesar is a very sweet ape he seems very strong . Koba is….. So ugly ! I can’t look at him why couldn’t just agree with Caesar and standing on his side instead of betraying him anyway I loved the movie!!!

      • @Lovely

        And at the same time, if the person reading your comment hasn’t seen the movie, he/she will have the entire plot spoiled thanks to your comment… *slow clap*

    • It was a cool movie yes, but as far as wind blowing… “There is no alternative energy!” The 2 human conspirators seem to be politically set on using the dam at all costs…. this is possibly one of the worst parts of the plot which makes none of the humans likable because it is irrational and unethical given the situation and past. Wind power would be enough to run the radio, and despite popular opinion, humans do not need electrical devices to thrive.

  8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is definitely one of the best movies of the year! I cannot wait for Planet of the Apes 3!

  9. This is the best large scale, dramatic sci-fi/action film that I have seen in years. Not one of the best; the best. Just incredible. Astoundingly powerful.

  10. I’m obviously in the minority, but I found myself wanting after viewing this movie. I found the apes to be unlikeable with the exception of Caesar and the orangutan. But I would have liked more human character development. The scene with the woman and the male lead’s son where they talk about emotional things underground was somewhat cliche. That scene really bothered me, in fact. It was totally meaningless to the story and felt injected in to breathe some life into the characters. Generally, it felt like the human characters were only shown us on the surface. For instance, I can’t remember a single human’s name in this movie. And what was the internal conflict for the main human characters? What changed about them? As far as I can tell, the male protagonist, the woman, and the kid were the same people in the end that they started out as. Caesar’s story really wasn’t all that compelling or thought-provoking, either.

    There was also a lack of humor or lightness in the movie. As far as the apes go… they’re always angry! I can understand that it’s a drama and a serious movie, but please relieve us occasionally. Yes, the orangutan was cool, and the baby chimp was cute – I’ll give you that. However, I just felt like everyone was just constantly in fear, fright, anger, or drama mode.

    I find that many movies these days try to keep you in this constant state of drama through the whole thing, but they lack the quite moments that allow the audience to relax and feel grounded. Maybe I just need to watch this again, or something; I don’t know. I’m not saying anyone else’s opinion is invalid, but this is mine. I didn’t leave the movie wowed. I just thought it was good movie that felt somewhat generic in the character stories, the biggest gripe being the lack of internal conflic and change. Nothing about this movie made me try to apply anything to my own life.

    • Well said. The intensity does not let up

      One of the weaknesses I found was that the dialogue was always so completely expected that I was hearing the next line in my head seconds before it was spoken and that through the entire film.

      It was good but not better than the original that had a much stronger journey for Ceasar. Less action but much stronger story made Rise the better film of the two.

      Of course to each their own.

    • The film is about two leaders trying to avert genocide. It’s not supposed to be funny.

      • There was lightness and humor in “Life is Beautiful”, and that actually was about genocide. It’s not about making it a comedy; it’s about giving the audience some relief amid the gloom.

    • Patrick, I agree. I found the lack of human character development very annoying! The “whuff grunt whuff whuff” ape scenes should have been balanced out by some intelligent human conversation about possible cooperation with the apes- “with their physical power and our technology…” as a method to reclaim the earth faster than the humans’ pathetic “keep the lights on at any cost” plan.
      The plodding unimaginative plot and dialogue hamstrung a beautiful picture with ground breaking performances by Serkis and the Koba actor. At least it gives high hopes for future nonhuman sci-fi and comic-book characters in films.

  11. This movie was so frustrating to watch, but it is an absolutely amazing and fantastic film. Kirk Acevedo’s character (I can’t remember his name) made me so angry!!! But in a good way. And KOBA! Oh man, I loved to hate him. So many great characters and acting, all around.

    One shot in particular stood out to me. The shot of Koba’s face after Caesar wails on it and it’s all bloody, looked so real. Absolutely photo real. I couldn’t believe how good the animation was.

    Calling it now. The third will be titled “War of…”

  12. Are you people nuts, the first apes move was very good and this one even better. Don’t miss it! Andy Serkis deserves an academy award period.

  13. By far my favorite summer movie and right up there with The Lego Movie as best movie of the year so far in my book.

  14. I just got back from the movie tonight. Hands down the best summer blockbuster this year and my favourite of the year, so far.

    The way the apes were done was just fantastic. I would be completely sold on a movie with just the apes. They held the right tone throughout the whole movie and I hope other summer blockbusters take some lessons from Dawn.


    Bring on the next entry.

  15. Just saw this movie last night at the drive in and loved it a lot I saw it with my dad who thought it was okay but thats mainly because he isn’t a big sic fi apocalyptic story kind of guy he thought it was okay but it wasn’t really his kind of thing he really just went because he likes the drive in and he and I like spending time together. One of the things that I was pretty impressed with and I was also surprised with were all the performances by the motion capture actors I was blown away by the work of Andy Serkis and Toby Kebell I would also like to add that after seeing this movie I cannot think of anyone better to play Doctor Doom than Toby I loved his work very much and he doesn’t do nearly as much motion capture as Serkis does. One of the people I saw it with who also thought it was mediocre said that it was a very generic story line and I don’t really think that was true about it for me I was worried that it was going to be a generic story line I was worried that it was going to be about the apes living in peace and the humans long for war all except for three of them and they try to stop the war from happening and blah blah blah instead it was about the fear of war and the fear of the unknown and I really liked how the person that wanted the war was an ape because I wasn’t expecting that at all I thought it was going to be Gary Oldman’s character that wanted war which to a degree might have been true but in the end Koba was the real villain and a damn good one I might add. Overall loved the movie to pieces can’t wait for the next one and I have all the more confidence that Serkis will crush it alongside the directing skills of Abrams in Star Wars 7.

  16. This film does what every great sequel does and builds on the framework of the first one and makes a better more satisfying entry. Now you can love both movies for different aspects. Caesar is still one of the only cgi characters I can actually can actually sympathize and care for. 4.5 out of 5 I really enjoyed the action but even more I just loved watching the apes sit around and have a conversation. This feels like a movie that actually wanted to entertain me and not just take my money like transformers 4 did and even amazing spider-man 2 did

  17. WOW, finally a review I agree with.

    This movie was AMAZING. And I’m really glad they didn’t go with the typical theme of how evil humans are whenever another species or beings are the stars of the movie. In fact, without giving away too much, it was almost opposite of what most would have expected. But done in a way that you actually understand EVERYONE’s point of view, even the ones that are ultimately “wrong” in the end.

    Which is one of the most amazing things this movie accomplishes, somehow we have a huge conflict without a single true “bad” guy. In a way, that makes it such a great movie too, because it’s not an easy task for you to just cheer someone on. You are kind of just helpless as you watch bad things happen to people you don’t want bad things to happen to. You can’t blame anyone and you can’t think of an easy resolution. Where in a typical film with a typical “bad guy” the easy resolution is to simply kill that bad guy and it’s finished. And as you watch them go to war with each other, it’s just so tragic, for BOTH sides.

    Another amazing thing they accomplished with this movie is they have pretty much broken past that “Uncanny Valley” with this movie, although you can’t “technically” say that since that mainly applies to human faces, but honestly, while watching the movie, you start to forget that these are CGI apes and all of their emotions are as human as any human emotion shown in any movie. And it was just downright amazing. And speaking of emotion, BOY was there a lot of them in this movie. Since there isn’t a single “bad guy” you get emotionally invested in every character. And everything seems so real… The love between the main human characters felt so authentic and real, when Gary Oldman’s character looks at photos of his family (which implies they are all dead, wife and two sons) oh man, turn on the waterworks, an emotional scene between two CGI apes, another waterworks scene… Then Caesar watching a video of when he was a baby being taught by James Franco “this is your home Caesar…” :’(

    Really a beautiful movie. Every character, real or CGI, just seems so real. There are no characters that just behaves in stereotypical ways that get you rolling your eyes knowing they will do something that will result in something happening. So many movies are like that, they introduce a character and instantly you know he’s just there to do something typical just to get a certain chain of events going… There’s none of that here. Everyone reacts to events realistically, and events unroll realistically. Nothing seemed forced or too “convenient” which is definitely a nice change from most movies now.

    This director did a great job with this movie. Definitely one of the must-see movies of this year. My other picks would be Edge of Tomorrow and How to Train Your Dragon 2 are kind of tied in my 3 picks for the best movies so far this year. Then Captain American: The Winter Soldier closely behind them. And while I enjoyed the new X-Men movie, and I can’t really bad mouth anything about it, just compared to these movies, it just felt a bit underwhelming… But either way, 2014 started off kind of boring, but these last few movies really finally made this year a great year for movies.

  18. Loved the first. Loved the second. That is all.

  19. Michael Bay and the writer of Transformers need to take notes…all I had to say! The whole story was based on off of the apes and I loved it! Best Movie of the year to me!!

    • Agreed.
      Bay is forever saying that the audience cannot relate to a “bunch of Robots”.
      No, they are NOT robots. They are sentient beings who just happen to be made of metal instead of carbon.
      It’s about time he realizes it is HIS JOB to make us relate to them. Or hand over the franchise to another director or writer who can.

  20. I gave it four stars. It’s an alright movie.

    Here’s the rant wherein I explain why I can’t give it five stars.

    1. I know that it’s species-ist of me, but all the apes look alike. I can’t tell them apart, except for Caesar (the leader), Scarface (the bad ape), some orangatang type ape (loveable relatives) and the son ape who looked like a charming version of the chimp in the Tarzan and Jane movies.

    2. I didn’t understand the tree house with the circular ramp made out of giant toothpicks or small logs. Was it a hospital? Was it a royal palace? I didn’t quite understand what it was.

    3. The movie plodded. Sort of like the first Star Wars movie. It gives a classic, if not epic, storyline, and it would be easy to fall asleep, but I was with a friend on one side, and a little six year old girl on the otherside, so I didn’t dare fall asleep or misbehave. There are a lot of subthemes in the movie. Sort of a survey of every theme from the first three Star Wars movies.

    4. The soundtrack music was formulaic, with two much drippy piano music during the family relationship scenes, and too much cathedral choirs during emotional battle scenes.

    5. I never once was on the edge of my seat caught up in the excitement or wondering what was going to happen next.

    6. There was an F-word uttered towards the end. That used to be for R-rated films, but I guess that standard is different, now. Also, if I ever hear the word a–n— again it will be too soon. It’s not even a very interesting or fascinating word.

    7. It’s sort of like ordereing everything off the McDonald’s menu. Everything tastes good, and everything is perfectly made to corporate measure, but you wonder if you really have to sit through all of it. I guess I’m saying that the sum is less than its parts.

    I probably offended sci-fi fans by my rant; I’m just saying that if you are a regular person, you won’t really be offended, you might enjoy a good story, but you might fall asleep, but it’s not as long as Noah was.

    • Oh, some more rant that I forgot:

      8. What’s with the emo son and the drippy wife? I really didn’t feel any character depth or character development. In fact, while most of the human characters were mostly shallow and plastic, I didn’t mind so much because the focus was on the apes. But watching the emo son and the pre-modernism wife whose only talent seems to be able locate where the family medicine cabinet or first aid kit is, but otherwise without any strong leadership ability at all.

      9. If you’re not into that relaxed, laid-back California feeling, then you really won’t get into this movie.

    • What is a-n-? Can you give me another clue? It’s driving me crazy? What is this word you’re referencing? I must be missing something obvious here.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly Tee.

  21. WOW! Instant classic. I wanted to stand up and start frantically applauding when the credits started, but it was a half empty theatre so I might’ve looked strange. This was a truly elevated blockbuster that works on every conceivable level. I love good looking garbage like transformers as well, but when a film like this comes along and shows you how great things can be it makes me embarrassed for my own poor taste. If the third one holds this quality then we’ll have a serious contender for best trilogy of all time.

  22. Toby Kebbell should get some serious recognition for his performance, outstanding.

  23. Is this movie suitable for 9 year olds?

  24. Great movie for sure but I don’t know how I feel about using all those apes to make a movie, I hope they were well treated during production. Does anyone know if they belong to a production company or if they’re from a zoo?

    • @Mike

      Not sure if you’re trolling, or if you’re serious. But I’ll just reply as if you’re serious… They belong to computers, that generate them, into images… Or something like that… ;-)

  25. I liked the movie, but then again didn’t like the movie. It was boring, but also had me wondering what would happen next. The first one was by far better than this one. I would have liked a better explanation( or liked to have seen an explanation) as to what happened to Caesars human friends from the first movie. Just telling us that Patient Zero died wasn’t enough for me. Also the whole Koba thing was weird. And I could’ve sworn the gorilla died in the first movie. The characters didn’t explain things or communicate to each other properly(such as the near the end when Malcolm told Dreyfus not to bomb the tower). One more thing, the apes looked just like each other and I couldn’t tell them apart, with the exception of ugly butt Koba. Doubt I will see the third installment next year. I rate it a 6 out of 10.

  26. The big pr5oblem I had with this movie was the behaviour of the human characters. Like nearly all post apocalyptic films it ignores how organised and lethal people are. Even at our earliest levels of development humans formed very organised groups which is how they survived without the benefit of exceptional physical strength. Even if you got rid of guns modern humans would form fighting and protective forces at least as disciplined as Roman Centurions, but in this film they have guns and books yet can’t seem to farm or clear land or organise young people into a proper fighting force and generally behave like clueless idiots. Despite it’s flaws Battle of the Planet of the Apes actually did a better job.