MOVIES OF THE MONTH By Steven Kranowski


Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesDAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.  Rated PG-13.  2hr., 10 min.


 2011’s excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a riveting sci-fi tale about the genesis of the Planet of the Apes’ simian-led society of the future.  Now comes the every-bit-as-good follow-up film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in which the ape-against-man saga further evolves.


Rise showed how some experimental drugs meant to combat Alzheimer’s disease resulted in an intelligence-enhanced chimpanzee named Caesar leading a simian revolt against humanity.  These drugs, though, proved lethal for human beings, and about a decade later a plague spawned by these drugs has well-nigh decimated humanity.  Meanwhile Caesar (once again portrayed in more brilliant motion-capture work by Andy Serkis), now father of two, has established a thriving primate community in northern California’s Muir Woods.


The human survivors in what’s left of San Francisco are very nearly out of fuel to power their city, but an explorer named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) has located a now-dormant hydroelectric dam that, if reactivated, can get the power back on.  The only problem is this dam just happens to be inside ape territory.  Malcolm and a few other people head to the simian city to plead their case to Caesar.  However, a deep level of mistrust remains between apes and people.  As the human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) keeps busy stockpiling a considerable arsenal and Caesar’s right-hand bonobo Koba (Toby Kebbell) harbors delusions of grandeur, the threat of war inches ever closer.


Director Matt Reeves (CloverfieldThe Pallbearer) maintains an exquisite balance between its epic sense of adventure and its wonderfully realized intimate moments.  Writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have certainly come a long way since their debut script for 1996’s god-awful Eye for an Eye, and the screenplay they co-wrote along with Mark Bomback (The Wolverine,Unstoppable) gives a sobering look at the parallel struggles faced by both human and simian society.


Serkis portrays Caesar with a moving sense of gravitas that arguably exceeds the great effort he put forth in the previous film, while Kebbell is equally effective as a seething cauldron of rage and resentment who feels the ends justify his means.  As with the last Apes movie, though, the human characters get comparatively short shrift.  Oldman, as the cast’s most recognizable name, does his usual yeoman’s work, while Clarke manages more or less to avoid embarrassing himself.


This movie’s ending leaves the door wide open for further sequels.  If Rise and now Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are any indication, this series has the potential to evolve into something special.


MY RATING:  **** ½ (4 ½ stars out of 5)