In the same way that World War Z and the more recent Edge of Tomorrow quickly brought audiences up to date with their settings, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins with a montage of TV sound bites from broadcasters around the globe. The ALZ-113 virus, more commonly known as the Simian Flu virus, has circled the globe at an alarming rate and killed off most of Earth’s human population. “Maybe this is how it ends,” a TV reporter states as his voice trails off.
It’s a somber beginning, but it sets the tone. For those who never saw the 2011 series reboot or perhaps saw it but forgot how it concluded, the global TV montage to this new edition works.
In this second of the new series – I think most of us have all but forgotten Tim Burton’s 2001 reboot attempt – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up roughly a decade after the last one ended. The world may be in ruins with a just a few humans remaining who were genetically immune from the virus, but the film concentrates its story within the confines of what is now a San Francisco wasteland and its surrounding forest. Famous landmarks are either coated in dirt and rubble or merely gateways to ghettos inhabited by what is left of the human race. If the virus didn’t kill them off, then the lack of basic supplies soon will.
The issue on hand is simple. If the survivors can get to the deserted power plant and regenerate the energy into working order, heat, light and power could return to parts of the skeletal city, and that could mean all the difference between life and death. But there’s a problem. The power plant sits outside of city limits. It’s in the woods, and that’s where the apes live.
While there was a lot to technically admire in the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the film ended in a way that left audiences suitably entertained but not altogether satisfied. However, if you were to walk off the street with little or no knowledge of any of the previous Ape films and saw Dawn, it wouldn’t matter. It might be a reboot sequel but it’s an altogether fresh beginning. As a stand-alone adventure, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is extremely impressive. It’s difficult to recall where the marriage of special effects, human actors and computer generated imagery has blended together so seamlessly well.
Oddly, director Matt Reeves has chosen to present the film not in widescreen but with a standard ratio. This makes for a more intimate setting when getting to know the apes on a closer level but for a film that has such an overall epic scope to its story, the grand setting is made to look cinematically somehow smaller. Still, considering how good the overall production truly is, the size and shape of the screen is a minor gripe.
The motion capture performances of Andy Serkis as ape leader Caesar, Toby Kebbell as Koba and Karin Konoval as the enormous orangutan Maurice – a nod to actor Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius the orangutan in the 1968 original perhaps? – are truly exceptional. In comparison, the human personalities barely register, though it’s good to see Jason Clarke and Keri Russell as sympathetic characters wanting nothing more than to live alongside the intelligent apes while most of their human surviving cohorts, including Gary Oldman, would rather their simian neighbors were dead. “If you’re not back in three days,” states Oldman to Clarke and Russell before they begin their trek to turn the power back on, “We’re gonna go up there and kill every last one of them.”
Considering that the 2011 reboot merely entertained but offered little to inspire the hope of a worthwhile future series of substance, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes comes as a surprise. It’s a genuinely enthralling adventure with intelligence that grips, even in the quiet moments. How rare is that when it comes to sequels?
One amusing observation. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is being presented in 3D on some screens. The 3D doesn’t necessarily add much to the enjoyment of the film – a regular screen will do fine – but when it comes to the scenes of communication between apes where sign language is used, the required subtitles in 3D hang like tangible objects off screen near the bottom. You can almost reach out and grab them.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 130 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)