Despite the issues I have with the main antagonist, I consider Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be a strong sequel with its empathetic characters and engaging drama.
Since the simian flu wiped out most of humanity, Caesar has established a small colony, where he enjoys a harmonious existence with his fellow apes. Suddenly human survivors appear and ask the apes for help with fixing a nearby dam. Caesar agrees but there are some humans and apes who are disturbed by the alliance and start to take action.
All the Characters Have a Motive and Their Actions Advance the Plot
One big issue I had with Rise of the Planet of the Apes was its antagonists. I thought they were two-dimensional and didn’t feel real as characters. In Dawn however, all the characters have reasons behind their motives and attitudes.
Malcolm, for example, wants to fix the dam for the human survivors at the city. He’s met Caesar and is aware of his intelligence so he tries to collaborate with him, avoiding any violent confrontations.
Dreyfus on the other hand shares Malcolm’s desire but not his attitude. He is just as concerned about the peoples’ survival as Malcolm but he does not see the apes as sentient beings. He sees them as animals and a threat to the city, hence he is more willing to wage war against them.
While Dreyfus is clearly an antagonist, he has a desire and an attitude and therefore feels more three-dimensional than the antagonists in Rise.
The Plot and Its Intensity
The first act establishes the history and tension between the humans and the apes, showing where particular characters stand in regards to the opposing species. So when Malcolm’s group start collaborating with the apes you feel anxious because you don’t know how long the alliance will last until someone strikes.
Incidents occur that divide the collaboration briefly but each time they happen you see the trust between the two groups weaken, which creates more tension. You feel that there’s going to be an eruption, an incident that divides the groups completely and leads to conflict. For me personally this makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a lot more powerful than Rise.
The only main criticism I have of the film is the character of Koba, an ape who hates the humans and triggers most of the conflict. On the surface he’s a good character, he has a motive and an attitude just like Malcolm and Dreyfus. He suffered vicious experiments performed by humans and wants to protect his village and fellow apes.
I understand why Koba hates humans, but for most of the film all we see is him simply displaying his prejudice. He’s never presented sympathetically. Not a lot of time is committed to establishing his character and attitude. He at least has a motive unlike the antagonists in Rise, it just wasn’t developed enough for me.
However, I forgive Koba because with its distinct characters and engaging plot, I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film and I give it a great 8 out of 10.