When it comes to sequels, I’m usually out. Trilogies, maybe if they’re based on a good series of books or graphic novels, you might keep my attention, but traditionally the second attempt at a second-rate idea misses the mark with me. On ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’, the sequel to 2011’s James Franco led ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’, I was sceptical as to how this instalment would fare with a less recognized cast. And my apprehension was somewhat justified. The latest reboot of the Apes franchise will leave even the most adamant Charlton Heston apologists scratching their heads and yearning for more. While it did garner Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects, I left this picture wishing it hadn’t been dumbed down so much to the extent where an ape might actually understand it. Maybe it’s all some top-secret government experiment where they show ‘Dawn’ to actual test apes to establish lines of communication, with the massive profit from the film funding the elaborate project. Anything is possible in 2015, after all.
Our sequel joins a crew of Simian-flu virus survivors holed up amongst San Franciscan ruins. After 10 years of civic unrest, an economic nosedive, and a black-plague-esque outbreak that laid waste to the modern world, these survivors have been so righteously blessed with a genetic immunity to the virus. Whilst exploring for alternative energy sources, the crew of engineers unintentionally stumble upon the ape kingdom and immediately enter into conflict. In this dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, the apes not only possess natural fight skills, but can ride horses, read, write, and talk. After some sweet talking on behalf of the crew’s leader, Malcolm, played by Jason Clark (Lawless, Zero Dark Thirty), the governor of apes, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis, allows Malcolm and his crew to attempt to restore a semi-destroyed, abandoned hydroelectric dam which can potentially re-power the city.
After a successful restoration, it seems as if the humans and apes have found a solid ground on which to coexist. Not so fast. All the while, another alpha-ape, Koba, has sparked a revolution with his ape comrades and returns to the tribe with stolen guns, usurping the benevolent Caesar and rising to power. Naturally, Orwellian tones of groupthink and tribalism allow Koba to lead his ape army on an immediate siege against the citizen militia of San Franciscans, stimulating an interspecies war of epic proportions. After successfully overrunning the resistance and imprisoning all humans and Caesar loyalists, Koba gets complacent. Meanwhile, Malcolm and his crew, who had fled the ape revolt, encounter a severely wounded Caesar, who is close to death until they nurse him back to health. Upon a jailbreak of Caesar’s inner circle, our ape protagonist leads his band against Koba. What ensues can only be described as an ‘Obi Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul’ style mano-y-mano, fisticuffs for control of the ape tribe. Caesar of course triumphs, despite being less than full-strength; call it Michael Jordan’s flu game 2.0. In resolution, Malcolm tells his ape ally to flee, but Caesar refuses, claiming “it was the apes that started this war, there’s no going back now.” Possible teaser for a next installment? I think so.
My biggest issue with ‘Dawn’ was the prevalence of slow, primitive monkey-speak as carrying dialogue. I get that monkeys aren’t great orators, but how is the viewer supposed to know each ape’s vocabulary range going in? Can some spit Plato while others only know basic greetings? There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions in regard to the ape species and their evolutionary development. Nevertheless the siege scene, in which Koba leads his ape hostiles against the humans, is as iconic as they come, rife with explosions, mayhem, and badass monkeys shooting guns sideways. ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’, for me at least, surpasses its predecessor in script, action, and overall watchability. And based on the ridiculous box-office gross, I’m privy to endorse a little “monkey see, monkey do” in my overall rating of the film.
DIRECTOR: MATT REEVES
STARRING: JASON CLARKE, ANDY SERKIS, GARY OLDMAN, KERI RUSSELL