Just when you thought it was hard to replicate the acclaim of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, along comes a sequel that dares to do so – and, along the way, manages to succeed.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes flash-forwards a decade after the scientific breakthrough that unlocks the intelligence potential of simians which gave Caesar the ability to articulate his thoughts in speech. During that time, said scientific breakthrough also boosted the spread of “simian flu”, a virus that has killed off much of mankind during the time-skip; as a result, apes have managed to fill in the evolutionary niche left behind by humanity. By then, urban San Francisco, CA has been overran by an increasingly verdant jungle while its human population has retreated into zones where paranoia runs high, fueled with readily-available guns.
Meanwhile, the apes – a mix of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutangs (why no baboons???) – have taken refuge in the surrounding forest, cultivating some semblance of organization and community. A detachment of humans breach their community, requesting access to a long-abandoned dam in order to bring more power to the city. The apes initially resist, even as the seeds of resistance are then planted by Caesar (again, portrayed by the movements and voice of Andy Serkis), who recalls his nurturing experience under Will Rodman. However, his efforts are thwarted by Koba, whose encounters of humanity have been, so to say, less than savoury.
While the first builds up largely on nostalgia with cleverly-placed nods to the original franchise, this time around, it uses the continuity established by the predecessor to weave a smart yet topically relevant story. You got the Abel and Cain dynamic established by Caesar and Koba; this is mirrored in the similar conflict between Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and the San Francisco camp’s traditionalist leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). You see Koba being corrupted by the humans’ firepower and alcohol (a utterly deadly combination, to say so); on the other hand, you got Malcolm’s wife Ellie (Keri Russell) being charmed by Caesar’s son “Blue-Eyes”.
Heck, they even managed to work in Pokemon shot-outs in this one – with two of the younger apes being named Ash and Rocket.
The CGI is flawless in this one, with all the apes and other wildlife rendered so fascinatingly real; even the foliage blanketing familiar San Fran landmarks is strikingly convincing. We see a good lot of ape-to-ape action, apes with guns, drunk apes with guns…even apes on tanks!!! However, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Mission Impossible III) doesn’t let Gigantic Explosions™ or Gratuitous Mushiness™ get too much in the way of delivering a convincing narrative.