When last we left the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, Caesar (Andy Serkis) had led his genetically enhanced ape friends into the forests north of San Francisco, and the genetically engineered drug that altered the apes was spreading across the globe, wiping out humans.
The sequel begins after most of humanity is dead. While human survivors have turned central San Fran into a fortress, the apes have built a city—indeed, an entire culture—in their forest paradise. Since any “paradise” is inevitably lost, the filmmakers have the humans encounter ape society—with predictable results.
While Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman are fine as the key humans, the most interesting performances are those augmented by special effects: Serkis as ape leader Caesar and Toby Kebbell as his rageaholic right-hand-ape, Koba.
Indeed, the filmmakers realized that what audiences really want to see are the apes, which is why Clarke is the male lead and not James Franco, whose character from Rise of the Planet of the Apes is presumed dead. And this is why the apes are at the center of the story, and the conflict between Caesar and Koba with regard to the apes’ relationship with humans is the most dramatic in the film. (The humans are trying to restart a dam to turn the lights back on; whatever.)
Serkis’ Caesar is as charismatic as ever, but it’s Kebbell’s Koba who steals the show. His rages are genuinely terrifying, and when he lulls a couple of gun-toting idiots into a false sense of security by playing the “dumb ape,” it’s hilarious—and, again, terrifying.
Director Matt Reeves is hard to pin down. While his direction of Cloverfield was peripatetic to an almost unwatchable degree, Let Me In, his remake of Let the Right One In, was the opposite, bordering on ponderous. (Reeves puts the “emo” in emotion.) Dawn is more akin to the latter film, but the explosive action happens at frequent enough intervals that things never get bogged down.
Is there a set-up for a sequel? Is the pope Argentinean?
The producers have left things open enough that the series can go in any number of directions. Here’s hoping they skip a couple of generations to when all the apes can talk.
At the end of Dawn, Caesar (of course) carries the day with his ape-ish version of humanism, but it’s Koba who’s probably right: The humans can’t be trusted and should be wiped out. But since we’re the ones buying the tickets and popcorn, that’s unlikely to happen in Day of the Planet of the Apes or whatever title Fox comes up with for the next sequel. And we will buy the tickets and popcorn, because most everyone is rooting for these apes.