Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the most interesting blockbusters you will see this year. This is not only because it finally puts Andy Serkis on the top of the billing, acknowledging that his performance in a motion capture suit is equally as important as a flesh and blood actor, but because it remembers that just because you are playing to a mass audience, it doesn’t mean you have to go dumb.
Thankfully, movies of this calibre seem to rising in popularity. Since films like Inception, the idea that a blockbuster must play to the lowest common denominator seems be slowly fading away and while there is no doubt those movies still exist (and will until Michael Bay returns to his throne in hell) it’s a change in attitude that suggests good things are coming.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes most interesting decision comes in the form of its refusal to set the traditional boundaries. There is no straight up good or evil but rather two sides, both of which are desperate to survive and grow and yet in doing so seem to be unable to not come into conflict with each other. It’s a story that echoes real life a lot closer than any movie that sees things as good and evil and reflects the uncertainty we all feel. When you blur these boundaries between good and bad it creates an atmosphere that is much more engaging that the traditional model. When the shit hits the fan, you are not worried about one side or another, but everyone. It stops being about wanting someone to win, but rather becomes about wanting people to survive.
There will be those who want dumb and stupid blockbusters, I can’t deny enjoying them occasionally myself. However, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows that you can get the thrills that are common place in these movies, be it a ape cavalry charge or an epic battle high above San Fransisco, without sacrificing your brain to do so. There appears to be a perception in Hollywood that bigger equals better, but the best moments in Dawn comes when everyone is scaled right down. A man and an ape protecting their families and the things they will sacrifice in order to do so. These aren’t other worldly ideas. They don’t involve a magical McGuffin or Dinobots, but just people (or in this case apes) being people.
Dumb blockbusters have a place in the world, there is no denying that. However, movies like Dawn show they don’t have to be the world. From what I can tell this has made a shit load of money and it has done it without ever giving up it’s intelligence and that’s a lesson that will hopefully be picked up by many more.