90%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
75%

Trading science fiction for action makes for quite the enjoyable blockbuster.

Ten years have past since the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a rather entertaining, though in-name-only, prequel to the 1968 classic starring Charlton Heston.

Caesar and his band of intelligent apes who know sign language and can occasionally speak words encounter some of the last remaining humans after the ALZ-113 virus spread to the world as the Simian Flu. The dawn of the first day shows little more than the tribe of apes, within the redwood Muir Forest outside of San Francisco. Caesar leads and guides the group with returning charaacters Rocket the bonobo and Maurice the orangutan. Fashioning himself as Caesar’s right hand is Koba, a fellow chimpanzee experimenter.

When they encounter humans for the first time in two years, Caesar faces a challenge that will define him as a leader and as an ape. Jason Clarke and Keri Russell star as Malcolm and Ellie, two of the last remaining humans in the world who are lucky enough to be genetically immune to it (talk about luck!). They are in search of a power source for their own remaining society, which is under fairly decent care by and overwhelmed leader named Dreyfuss (Gary Oldman). Trust issues and mutinous acts abound. Could this start a war?

While titles credit husband and wife team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver as co-writers with Mark Bomback, the story is “suggested by” Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes. There isn’t much to speculate as far as relations between the movies might exist. There is still much less than a “planet of apes” although the human gift of advanced intelligence eliminates the idea of hubris.

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In comparison to the tone set by Rise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes replaces science fiction drama with action. The story is much simpler, which means there is much more violence. And the violence is much more brutal. Spears are at one point traded for automatic machine guns, pushing this PG-13 rating for all it’s got. The film’s fight scenes are well placed and not complex. The final showdown sure is a wow factor.

The most prominent feature of director Matt Reeves’ second chapter is the character work and acting of the main primate characters. Andy Serkis continues to demonstrate his mastery in motion capture acting with returning actors Karin Konoval, and Terry Notary (who is also the film’s movement choreographer). Comedy actress Judy Greer makes an appearance as Cornelia, Caesar’s interest from Rise (when she was portrayed by stuntwoman Devyn Dalton).

Script and screenplay include a healthy mix of the apes communicating to each other through subtitled sign and/or animal sounds as well as articulating words and sentences. Hard to believe that the favor has shifted between generations toward the animal side of this story, as the audience is faced with the puzzling question “What are they supposed to do?” A subplot involving children of the apes adds a much more personable touch to the film as well. Unfortunately, the focus on certain characters leaves little time in the to offer much charisma to some supporting roles, both human and ape.

Visual effects by WETA Digital are beyond amazing. 2011’s Rise was the first movie to shoot motion capture scenes outdoors as opposed to against a green screen in a studio, paving the way for Dawn to feature many more outdoor scenes including a beautiful home establishment for the apes. Not much of a 3D movie, although it was shot that way. Michael Giacchino takes the reins to score this one, and as always succeeds admirably.

It’s a crowd pleaser in every right that it needs to be. The acting on the human side isn’t much by comparison to the title mammals. And while the story is predictable, it is a lot of fun to watch it unfurl. Despite the unfortunate two-dimensionality of some central characters, the concept of a possible post-apocalyptic world is very prominent in the script and performance by the remaining human race as a whole.

Ultimately, a spectacular portrayal outshines the casualty-ridden story. Action more than makes up for brief lulls. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes serves as a perfect follow-up and sequel to the 2011 sci-fi drama. A new generation of movie watchers get to see a classic story retold with a more than acceptable modern twist. It sure is a far cry from armored apes on horseback, standing on their hind legs, and speaking perfect English to each other.

About The Author

Contributing Writer

Herbert M. Shaw began writing movie reviews for his high school newspaper and hasn't stopped since. In 2005, his radio program "The Shaw Report" was started with WCDB Albany 90.9 FM in Albany, New York, and lives on with online streaming at www.wcdbfm.com. In addition to film and TV reviews, Herbert also covers a variety of pop culture events surrounding technology, gaming, and the arts. He has covered every single New York Comic Con since 2006, and writes an annual Oscar prediction guide.