As I flipped through my notebook, I realized what a dearth of entertainment I’ve sat through the last few weeks. Jersey Boys, Earth to Echo, Tammy, and the upcoming And So It Goes, this summer sure has hit a roadblock. Thankfully, this weekend sees the return of those damn dirty apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to the successful 2011 reboot. Bringing on director Matt Reeves — who certainly knows a thing or two about controlled on-screen mayhem: Cloverfield — was a stroke of genius. Now, moviegoers can finally get their money’s worth of entertaining cinema.
Ten years have passed since the outbreak of the ALZ-113 virus with humans seemingly extinct. Caesar (Andy Serkis) lives in the California woods; along with the comrades he helped escape from the sanctuary in the first film, and his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston). Koba (Toby Kebbell), Maurice (Karin Konoval), and Rocket (Terry Notary) serve as his right hand apes. Caesar misses the humans, much to Koba’s chagrin who only remembers the cruel treatment he received.
One day, a group of humans who are supposedly “genetically immune” to the virus — Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), former CDC worker Ellie (Kerri Russell), and Carver (Kirk Acevado) — wander into their territory looking for a dam they want to fix to restore power. Koba wants Caesar to have them killed as revenge for Carver shooting one of their own, but Caesar sends them back to San Francisco where Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) leads a stronghold of humans who survived the virus outbreak. Dreyfus doesn’t trust the apes any more than Koba trusts the humans, and one of the two will spark the start of a war between the two.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes won’t go down as the summer’s most fast-paced thrill ride, so you should know walking in that the film is a major slowburn. It’s never boring, but just don’t expect the usual practice of bigger and louder from this sequel. There are a lot of subtitles as we spend time in the ape world with them using mostly sign language to communicate. Screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver return, helping to keep the tone of the first film, with Mark Bomback (The Wolverine, Total Recall, Live Free or Die Hard) ostensibly brought in to punch up the action. Composer Michael Giacchino brings a vibe of Jurassic Park to the score, feeling like a warm up to next summer’s Jurassic World, but he also infuses a touch of the original series’ themes for fans to keep an ear out for.
Director Reeves delivers the goods on all accounts with the human/ape drama leading viewers to genuinely care about each group, making this one of the more heartfelt action films in quite some time. Anyone who complained that Rise didn’t have enough ape action the first time around can rest easy; money shots abound with one of the best involving Koba riding on top of an out-of-control tank, but it’s the drama that makes it all worthwhile. Not to mention the astounding visual effects from Weta Digital.
Yes, it’s finally safe to head back to theaters, and hopefully, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does better than Rise, because it’s a hugely successful sequel that never gets bogged down in thinking they have to deliver more of the same. Summer is finally back on track. If Dawn is leading to War of the Planet of the Apes, then sign me up right now.
Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox