Author: J.A. Hyde
July 11, 2014

SYNOPSIS: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t pack the punch of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but it’s still a satisfying ride.

Actually, those titles should be switched since Rise was really about the beginning, and Dawn is really about the evolution of the apes. Obviously, it’s too late for that, but think about the increasing intelligence, facility with sign and spoken language, and highly organized community structure of the apes, and “dawn” seems like a misnomer.

Andy Serkis returns as Caesar, leader of the apes and sympathetic friend to humans. He muses to a comrade that they’ve not seen humans for ten winters and wonders if any are left, but they are indeed there – living in the ruins of San Francisco.

A small group of humans venture into the ape’s territory to try to find out if a dam is still operational so they can generate power. Sent by the human’s leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his son Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee), his partner Ellie (Keri Russell), and a few workers seek to establish a peaceful connection with the apes and locate the dam. Of course, there are trouble makers on both sides. Hot-headed human Carver (Kirk Acevedo) harbors a mindless distrust of apes, but is supposedly the only one who knows how to work the dam’s equipment. Ape Koba, unabashedly bitter due to a lifetime of suffering from human experiments, harbors a hatred of humans that will prove destructively insidious to Caesar’s reasonable and just rule. Where trouble makers go, disaster follows.

The story line is quite predictable, but that’s to be expected in a film that’s obviously a bridge between the first film and the next one which will probably be all-out war between humans and apes. Of course, if you’re the least bit familiar with the original Planet of the Apes (1968), or even the muddled loosely adapted Tim Burton remake in 2001, you know the outcome. Whether or not the filmmakers muck around with the original plot remains to be seen. The end of the current film strongly foreshadows the next one.

Andy Serkis must surely be the king of CGI actors, and he doesn’t disappoint here. When asked in an interview how he manages all of the complex choreography involved in the action scenes, he modestly said, “It’s just acting – just regular acting.” I beg to disagree since the film wouldn’t work without his amazingly adept performance. Toby Kebbel as villainous ape Koba is also a stand-out, as is Nick Thurston as Blue Eyes, Caesar’s rebellious son.

The “human” actors aren’t so fortunate. They’re a wimpy lot who mostly don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Part of the problem is the script which gives them wimpy things to say, and when not wimpy, horribly clichéd. They’re not very sympathetic characters. Poor Gary Oldman is given the unenviable task of playing the increasingly unhinged Dreyfus, and in the end, comes off more as campy than anything else.

Visually, the film is stunning. The redwood forest where the apes have established their colony, and the ruined San Francisco are worth the price of the ticket. The fight-to-the-death action scenes are exceptional. If you’re a fan of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you’ll like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but you’ll probably long for the very affecting poignancy of the previous film’s ending. - JoAnne Hyde


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