Hate is a universal theme. It’s something we’ve all felt before, some to the point of being detrimental to people and their safety. For many, it can be felt as strongly as love, but bleeds into our psyches like a plague, wreaking havoc on our minds and veiling our logic and any other positive characteristic. Miscommunication is also something we struggle with on a daily basis. What did this person say to me? Should I be offended? Did I hear him or her correctly?

Combining hatred and miscommunication leaves us with misunderstandings, grudges, intolerance for others who may be different, and in worst case scenarios, war. So, it’s not really surprising that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes touches on all of these things in a way that isn’t entirely subtle in regards to apes and humans, but generally uses these themes wisely in a movie that is both entertaining and suspenseful.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the apes that escaped from the lab from Rise of the Planet of the Apes are now living peacefully in the forest not far from San Francisco. The virus from a decade earlier has wiped out most of the human population and its unknown how many people are still alive. One day, after scouting the forest, a group of survivors searching for a source to restore power come across Caesar’s son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) and his friend Ash (Larramie Doc Shaw). Tensions immediately rise as the trigger-happy Carver (Kirk Acevedo) shoots Ash and enrages the apes, who tell them not to come back.

But Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) know they need the power source in order to ensure their survival and to communicate with other possible survivors elsewhere. So getting to the dam and getting it functioning is a top priority. Malcolm leads his team, which includes his partner Ellie (Keri Russell) and son Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee), back into the forest to try and get to the power source, by negotiating and trying to make peace with Caesar and his apes.

With every interaction, the tension builds and the line between war and peace becomes almost indistinguishable as the humans ramp up their weaponry in preparation for a possible attack by the apes, and Koba (Toby Kebbell), still angry from the humans experimentation on him, is at odds with Caesar and his choices to not kill the humans.

One of the things you can appreciate about this film is the intensity of the quickly unfolding events that leave you reeling once they happen. The tension is built scene by scene, so thick by the end that only a natural disaster may have broken it. The writers are smart to have written both the apes and humans as sympathetic, but dangerous. Different, yet ultimately the same. And while battle ensues between the two sides, the conflicts within each group become just as prevalent.

The characters and their interactions are filled with great moments as well as a lot of tension. With every step they take, they’re watching each other like hawks while we wait for the hammer to fall and break the very fragile peace between them. The sequel to the 2011 film builds on what we learned previously, but is able to expand further because of the ten year time gap, which is welcome and brings a more desperate and darker atmosphere than what we would have seen had they set the film directly after its predecessor.

The filmmakers also make it easy to distinguish each ape from the different scars they each have, which is very clever on their part. Both humans and apes aren’t portrayed in a perfect light, and while you can understand each side’s desperate attempts to maintain their superiority, survival, and claim on the planet, you will still become frustrated over the lack of communication and immediate attempts to engage in violence. Alas, that is the way of the world and it’s quite unfortunate. Had they communicated and put their assumptions aside, they might have come to better conclusions and the film plays on these themes heavily.

The back and forth between the apes and humans does drag on for a bit longer than it should, only because there’s so much of it, but it does set up the suspense and the finale very well and perhaps makes it stronger because of this. The film’s action scenes will satisfy and the story really digs into these character’s struggles and actions. The CGI for the apes is fantastic. Each one is unique, distinguishable, and pretty badass. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is ultimately a worthy sequel of its predecessor, sets up the third film well, and is satisfying on many levels.

Release Date: July 11, 2014 | Director: Matt Reeves | Screenwriters: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback | Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell, Nick Thurston, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Jon Eyez, Larramie Doc Shaw, Karin Konoval, Kirk Acevedo, Kodi Smit-McPhee | Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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