If you missed out on the reboot/reimagining Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you really need to go back and watch that. It managed to kind of sneak up on us, after the weird other attempt at a reboot in 2001. So really, this is the third iteration of the franchise. The name is a little much. Couldn’t we just go with Rise of the Apes and Dawn of the Apes respectively?
Anyways. Is this sequel to the surprise hit worth catching?
We join the action and it’s been ten years since the “simian flu” wiped out most of human civilization. This flu also enabled apes to evolve to a higher level of thinking, some even able to speak or use sign language. So now, we have a community of apes living in the forests of northern California and a small human group that has to venture into the forest to try to activate a nearby dam and bring power to their part of the city. When these two worlds collide, things quickly escalate.
Our human leads are Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, with Gary Oldman playing the leader of the human settlement. On the ape side, we get motion capture performances from Andy Serkis (Gollum from Lord of the Rings) and Toby Kebbell (Wrath of the Titans, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).
Damn. Everything. This movie absolutely nails it. The first one was a surprise hit but this one improves on it in nearly every possible way. Serkis’s motion capture performance is one that’s already generating potential Oscar nomination buzz, which would be unprecedented (but not surprising after this film). Serkis’s Caesar is great but the real surprise is how stellar his second-hand ape Koba is. Koba is motion-captured by Toby Kebbell and steals absolutely every scene he’s in. Koba doesn’t love (or even like) humans, so you can never tell his motivations and he delivers some absolutely chilling moments and I actually got goosebumps after a few twists. You forget that these are computer-generated apes. They look, act, and feel absolutely real.
The humans in this movie are almost secondary, as most of the movie is spent from the ape’s perspective. It also means most of the movie is subtitled, as they use sign language to mostly communicate. But it works completely and I’m glad the human story wasn’t pushed to the forefront (looking at you Transformers).
Now, while this might be a big summer release, it shouldn’t be bunched in with other “summer blockbusters.” The action scenes are sparse but when they hit, they hit hard. There are also a lot of quiet moments and touching moments and absolutely breathtaking moments.
What doesn’t work?
If anything, the movie opens a little slow and the worst visual effects in the movie are in the opening scene, which involves a stampede of CGI deer. After you warm up to these characters, the movie feels more right, but the entrance into the world is a little jarring.
I used the word “absolutely” a lot in this review. And that is dead-on what I feel. Absolutely satisfied, absolutely thrilled, and absolutely impressed. This movie is the future of cinema. While the original Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great watch, it’s actually not required watching, if you’re not able to. This movie stands on its own as a pillar of excellent film making. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible.