Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Ten years after Will last saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) leading a group of apes into the Redwood forests outside San Francisco, the ALZ-113 drug created at Gen-Sys began a pandemic known as the Simian Flu which wiped out most of mankind. A group of survivors being led by former law enforcement officer Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) has made camp amidst the ruins in the city, but when Malcolm (Jason Clarke, "Zero Dark Thirty") leads a small band into the Muir Woods in an attempt to revive power generation at the O’Shaughnessy Dam they make a startling discovery, a large, Caesar-led community of apes whom some humans wish to communicate with while others want to declare war on in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."

Laura's Review: B+

Director Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield," "Let Me In") takes over the franchise (written by "Rise of the Planet of the Apes's" Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and "The Wolverine's" Mark Bombeck) and if the motion captured apes of "Rise" owned the first film, they absolutely rule the second. There is no mistaking Serkis is the star of this film, and if his words at the end of the first were astonishing, the sight of him on horseback bellowing 'Go!' to Malcolm is a powerful one. The movie's plot is steeped in xenophobia, gun control, fathers and sons and the story of Julius Caesar himself. When Carver (Kirk Acevedo, TV's 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'), one of the humans who (incorrectly) blame the apes for humanity's woes, comes across Caesar's son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston, "White Irish Drinkers") and his friend Ash (Doc Shaw, TV's 'House of Payne') Rocket's (ape movement coach and stunt coordinator Terry Notary) son, he fires in fear, hitting, but not killing Ash. Malcolm, who is there with his own son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, "The Road," "Let Me In"), tries for peace, but they are told in no uncertain terms to leave and never return. Dreyfus has a hard time accepting Malcolm's tale of speaking apes, even though he's backed up by his party, and he and most believe they should wipe out the colony. But Malcolm pleads for a chance to return and reason with the ape. When he does, telling Caesar he wishes to show him something, the apes, especially the lab-traumatized Koba (Toby Kebbell, "Control"), respond in kind (Koba's followed the humans back to the city and knows about their large armory). Caesar visits the dam and remembers humans' 'light.' He agrees to let Malcolm return with his party on one condition - no guns. Of course Carver, being the only member with city power experience, returns with a hidden firearm, discovered by Caesar's playful newborn. The celebration for the restoration of power turns into mayhem when Koba takes matters into his own hands, blame falling clearly on Malcolm and his ilk. As the two communities engage in battle, we get a taste of the world originally seen in 1968's "Planet of the Apes." The production has been well thought out, the apes' progression like an early civilization with cave drawings (and the words 'Ape not kill other ape'), hunting tools, body painting and communication which falls between sign and verbal language while the humans exist in ruins, trying to restore what once was (not unlike the cure for Alzheimer's which initiated the whole mess). While none of the humans of "Rise" are present, Caesar at one point gravitates to Will and his dad's abandoned house, where Malcolm will see a photograph and video of Caesar's past. Serkis is commanding yet fair as Caesar, physically intimidating with thoughtful, expressive eyes. It's a soulful performance. Kebbell does a great job with his scarred ape Koba, brutally animalistic yet able to clown to disarm humans. Karin Konoval's gentle ex-circus orangutan Maurice plays a large part, educating the young apes while engaging with Alexander over a book (and one of many imprisoned by Koba for allegiance to Caesar). Judy Greer ("The Descendents") steps in to portray Cornelia, now Caesar's wife, but the character isn't very fleshed out, more of a plot device to gain human trust (Malcolm's mate Ellie (Keri Russell, TV's 'The Americans'), a former CDC nurse, steps in when Cornelia's ill after childbirth). Weta Digital has once again done an amazing job painting apes around the human actors who provide their expressions and movement. Once again, the human actors suffer in comparison, Oldman especially not creating a character of any real distinction. The film was shot in 3D, but there was little about the use of the format that made it essential. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a thoughtful war film. While it may be about apes achieving dominance over mankind, it's real message is that subjugation breeds hatred and violence - it's a simian "Battle of Algiers." Grade:

Robin's Review: DNS