Dawn of the Planet of the Apes generally follows the sequel playbook closely. It’s darker and more action packed. We get new human characters introduced that don’t come close to matching the interest we have in the apes. The saga of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his struggle of loyalty to his species and the human race is what’s truly fascinating.
In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes reinvigorated a series that had stumbled in 2001 with its original restart that was Tim Burton’s misguided effort. Rise was much better than anyone expected. The freshness of seeing a franchise reborn in a legitimately satisfactory manner has been replaced in its sequel with competency. That and amazing visual effects that improves upon its predecessor.
We begin ten years after the events of Rise and the human race has been decimated by deadly pandemic. A small group of survivors dwells in dystopian San Francisco and must access a dam to provide themselves a power source. The problem is that Caesar and his loyal ape followers have set up their home on the way to that dam. And based on the events that transpired years ago, most of the apes don’t exactly trust humans. And vice versa.
Included among the humans is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who soon forms a bond with Caesar. Our main ape character has not forgotten that humans can be good people and it is a constant source of contention with Koba, Caesar’s second in command who has no use for them. Keri Russell plays Malcolm’s wife with Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son. Caesar has a wife now and two children of his own. The leader of the human pack is portrayed by Gary Oldman, solid as always with not a whole lot to do expect for an effective crying scene.
The last two Apes pictures have been very successful in realizing Caesar as a fully formed character and represents some of the finest CG work to date. Much of the credit, though, is due to the indispensable Andy Serkis and his work to bring him to life. Matt Reeves (who did Cloverfield) takes over his directorial duties from Rupert Wyatt.
As mentioned, there is more action to be had here and it is certainly well choreographed. There’s a shot of Koba on a tank during a key battle sequence that is magnificent. While the action is solid, it is Caesar’s character arc that keeps us interested and keeps this second entry in the reconfigured Apes universe worth watching.
*** (out of four)