It is still blockbuster season at the local multiplex and we are at the stage where one can lose faith in the fact that there aren't movies out there that aren't just non-stop explosions and orgies of action, sometimes they can have a little humanity inside all the madness. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a thoughtful next step in the de-evolution of man and the rise of the ape in the struggle for the planet and the survival of the human race where both ape and man have better defined characters then some action movies with stars that DON'T have body hair.
It's years after the initial outbreak of the simian flu and a growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is trying to live a peaceful life until it is threatened by a band of human survivors looking to recreate a little piece of what they lost and restore power to the city of San Francisco. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species as neither side can forget or move beyond the crimes of the past.
Director Matt Reeves takes over the centre chair from previous helmer Rupert Wyatt with great results as the writing team remains intact and crafts what very much feels like the 2nd in a potential ape trilogy that is brimming with intelligence, not necessarily in its character development but in its portrayal of the root of human nature in some unexpected ways.
Reeves is the kind of talent who is more than capable of shooting the large scale action set pieces as well as the intense close up stuff, and here he makes everything seem vital and mean something. It's something that is often taking for granted, but it is never action for the sake of action in this film as every single frame means something as these two factions who think that they are so very different are actually very much alike. He infuses it all with a certain amount of intensity that makes it come alive, be it in an extended battle sequence, or in a simple scene where a young boy shares a graphic novel with an ape who is fascinated by words and pictures. The script and the narrative aren't necessarily overloaded with character development and depth but it gives us the raw humanity of good and evil and right and wrong in absolute spades. It is by nature a silly story, but with genuine profound moments as good tries to overcome but in the end the nature of both man and ape is just far too similar then either side cares to admit as they all exist in various shades of grey.
Jason Clarke isn't quite at leading man status yet but he does a decent enough job as the co-founder of a human colony who stumbles upon some apes while on an expedition. He plays the uneasy leader and moral compass of the group well while Gary Oldman as the military man trying to keep people alive and helping them take back the planet is equally as strong. It's a story where both men are just trying to do what is right. Surprisingly enough the genuine star of the film is Andy Serkis as the ape Caesar, not just in his brilliant physical movements, but as a tortured soul who knows firsthand that not all humans are evil but he is compelled to take care of his own kind as he sees what humanity is capable of towards being that look just like him. With a simple pained look, we see more agony and humanity in Serkis' eyes then some film's can ever muster. Sadly the balance of the ensemble that includes Keri Russell, Kodi-Smit McPhee, Kirk Acevado, Toby Kebbell and Judy Greer really didn't have that much to do and it felt like a bit of waste.
Upon reflection, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" isn't a new kind of social profound tent pole blockbuster but it does maintain a certain level of humanity and that is a refreshing enough change for me.
4 out of 5 stars.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is now playing in theatres everywhere, please check with local listings for show times.