The first of which is that director Matt Reeves decided to take his two most recent films and mash them together tonally. Cloverfield is a non-stop shaky-cam thrill ride with explosions, screaming, and firefights. Let Me In is a much quieter film that focuses far more on building atmosphere and letting relationships between the characters have time to breathe and stretch their legs. Each film hinges respectively on its traits and what's so great about Dawn is that not only does it make a virtue of the action filmmaking that elevated Cloverfield but it also manages to spend as much time on the kind of quiet, emotional character building that attracted Reeves to remaking Let The Right One In in the first place. What this all boils down to is that Dawn really does have something for everyone.
I saw the film in a theater that's really only a step down from IMAX and I recommend that everyone do the same. The action is thrilling and the sound mix is top notch. But more importantly this film needs to be seen on a giant screen with a stellar projection system because the time and effort put into the apes faces is frankly, out of this world. Motion capture has become a truly amazing tool for almost any type of filmmaker and the advances they've made in even the short time since 2011's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is astounding.
But it's not just there to look pretty. The motion capture is essential to getting the film's true message across. Just like it's predecessor, Dawn was made to tell a story about family. The broad strokes of the film pit human families against ape families and that can be broadened further to a battle of species v.s. species. But the reason Dawn pulls it off differently than so many other films is because the versus aspect of the story is actually the B storyline. At least as far as I'm concerned. The trailers for the film portrayed it as a story of apes on horseback with M-16's riding in slow motion through flames. And yes that does happen but it's not important. What is important is watching all kinds of creatures simply trying to survive. When violence begins to rear its head before the eyes of the main characters they all attempt to avoid it at all costs. It's only when a villain, and this film does a great job of showing that they exist on all sides, tries to capitalize on the primal fear that all creatures possess and respond to. Fear drives more decisions than any of us would ever like to admit but the sad truth is that when we're scared we'll do anything to survive. Even if that means dashing the hope for peace at our own feet.
It's incredibly refreshing to see a film that does its best to portray the participants in its big budget action sequences as unwilling. Unlike so many other summer blockbusters and large scale battle films, only a handful of characters in this film actually preach violence as an answer. Almost every violent decision in the film is driven by fear and though it's easier to understand something primal with apes occupying half the screen time it really doesn't take much to translate their behaviors to our own. Late in the film Caesar has the epiphany that apes and humans are more similar than he could have ever imagined. He's devastated in this moment because despite trying so hard to be free and independent of man, the apes still wound up behaving just like them. And because these two species are so similar they're doomed to repeat the violence of the past and eventually find their way to the future represented in the original Planet Of The Apes.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a film that has its characters trying desperately to create a better world for themselves but more importantly for their families. For their children. They go to all kinds of lengths to promise their children a better world than they had. A world that is peaceful and safe for their families to simply live in. But what the film continues to challenge us with is the idea that if we're so willing to turn a blind eye to the peace we want so badly in order to remove any threat to it, then why can't we simply turn a blind eye to the size of our family? Why can't we see our whole species as our family all the time rather than just when we feel threatened? Shouldn't peace, our ultimate desire, be guiding our decisions rather than fear? If we're such advanced thinkers, then why can't we escape our most primal urges and simply be together, strong?