It wouldn’t be shocking if the sequel to the second attempted reboot of a film franchise that started in the 1960’s was not any good. In fact, it may be expected. And while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, the eighth film in the franchise and sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, is not a bad movie, it is a step down from its predecessor.
Featuring an entirely new human cast, and a new director, “Dawn” picks up 10 years after “Rise”, where a virus has wiped out almost all of mankind (or maybe it was eight years. The film never actually picks a timeline and sticks with it). When a group of human survivors, led by Jason Clarke, comes in contact with the apes, led by motion-capture Andy Serkis, it lights a powder keg that may just begin all-out war. Matt Reeves directs.
I enjoyed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” because it wasn’t the Tim Burton mess, seemed to know the line to walk between cheesy and serious, and saved its action scene for an emotional climax. While the set pieces and direction in “Dawn” are an improvement over “Rises”, it seems the filmmakers forgot everything else that made the first film a surprise hit.
As with everything he does, Andy Serkis knocks his performance out of the park as Caesar, leader of the apes. Using motion capture, just like he did with King Kong and Gollum, Serkis’ every facial wrinkle and nostril flare are captured, and the man really does deserve an Oscar nomination for something because he has changed CGI in movies. When Caesar is not on screen, you feel his lack of presence, and when he is there he demands your attention.
The special effects are all outstanding and the creative team deserves all the props in the world. You truly believe that you are watching actual apes run around, and every battle scene features glorious explosions. The set pieces are also top notch; whether it is a barricaded ape village or an abandoned human construction site, you are immersed into the world.
Unfortunately, pretty on the surface is really all “Dawn” has to offer. Right from the opening scene, which featured the apes herding deer (or hunting them? Once again, the movie never explains half of what it introduces), I knew this wasn’t going to be the same as the first Apes movie.
First off, the whole thing seems familiar, and not just because it’s a sequel. Whether it is the surviving group finding sanctuary from “Walking Dead” or the encountering of seemingly hostile enemies from “Dances with Wolves”, we’ve seen everything in this film before.
The second thing the film gets wrong is its action scenes. “Rise” knew to hold its action until the climax, that way there is emotional buildup. “Dawn” forces its action scenes, or scene rather, and by the end of the film it seems like it was all pointless to the plot. (Leave pointless action scenes to Michael Bay, please)
The film wants to seem smart and satirical, with its messages of “war is bad” and “let’s all be friends”, but those are both themes most everyone can already agree on. I’m not paying to see a movie that features talking apes riding horses and shooting guns to get any sort of popular propaganda force fed to me.
Serkis is great, and Reeves’ direction and set pieces look fantastic, but the emotion and action, two of the attractions to a movie like this, fall short. There’s going to be a third film, the ending of this one is all but a trailer for it, and I hope the filmmakers can learn from their mistakes and create a solid trilogy (or however long they plan to milk this for), but as it stands now, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an alright film in a historic franchise.
Critics Rating: 6/10