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'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' is a smart and exciting follow-up

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, along with being an enjoyable movie in general, was one of the rare reboots of an iconic franchise that dared to really try something different from its predecessors and actually succeeded. Caesar's origin story offered impressive motion-captured performances, an exciting final act, and an entertaining look into how Earth as we know it began to change into the primate-dominated state that Charlton Heston's character Taylor encountered in the 1968 classic that started it all.

Considering both how the film ended and what a hit it ended up being, a sequel was inevitable. Now, we have Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and with it comes a dramatically different world and story, though neither should come as a shock, considering what Rise's final scenes hinted at. The final product is a mature, well-acted, and often gripping film, and though it initially repeats its' predecessor's stumbles during the first act, it doesn't take long at all for it to become one of the more enjoyable films to come out this summer.

Taking place about a decade after the previous film, we follow the super-smart chimp Caesar (Voiced and mo-capped once again by Andy Serkis), who since taking up a new home in a forest with many other apes, has kept to himself, raised a family, and is attempting to educate his fellow simians in the basics of civilization and order that he learned while being raised by humans. Things are going far less smoothly for humanity, though, as the drug used on Caesar and many of the other apes ended up resulting in a lethal and widespread virus that wiped out most of civilization.

When Caesar's son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), encounters a small pack of human survivors, tension between both groups immediately starts to flare. Caesar, hoping to avoid conflict, is quick to make it known that he has no desire to fight, but wants his colony to stay away from contact with what's left of humanity in nearby San Francisco. Eventually, the group that was initially encountered convinces Caesar to help them locate and activate a nearby dam, in hopes of getting electricity back to their homes.

Things start to go less smoothly soon after, thanks mainly to the meddling of Koba (Toby Kebbell), a member of Caesar's colony unable to trust humans due to spending much of his early life being experimented upon by them. When he is unable to sway Caesar with his arguments for war, he resorts to his own underhanded plan, and from there, things begin to truly escalate.

As I mentioned before, Dawn starts off in a similar manner to Rise, in that it does take a little while to become truly gripping. This is a pattern I see in a lot of movies (Most recently How to Train Your Dragon 2), and it's not an easy one to overcome, since it's always necessary to clearly set up and establish the characters and conflicts in a film, and the world this sequel inhabits is very different from the one before it. As a result, it's one of the lesser sins I feel a movie can commit (Especially since there are many that make up for it as they progress), but it's worth noting nonetheless.

Thankfully, after about a half-hour or so, this stops being an issue. When the conflict between apes and humans starts to make itself visible, as well as Koba starting to put his scheme into motion, things really do pick up and never stumble afterwards. The action scenes that also serve as key plot points are really something to behold, and the CG work on the apes is truly well-done, as I even remarked to a friend I saw the movie with that you could take certain shots and never guess it wasn't a real primate.

The movie also takes some slight risks that thankfully pay off, most notably in how the apes communicate. While those who saw Rise may remember two very notable scenes where Caesar speaks, Dawn doesn't simply have us assume that all the apes mastered the art of speech between films. A good majority of their dialog with one another is done via subtitled sign language, and so long as you're not the type who refuses to read during a movie, it's a very nice touch that adds to the atmosphere of the film's world.

In terms of performances and presence, Caesar is once again the most notable character for me, as Andy Serkis and the animators responsible for recreating his movements and facial expressions work wonders yet again. Koba is an appropriately devious and threatening villain, as well. As far as the humans go, the cast is completely different from the first film (Save for a brief cameo from James Franco via an old recording), but I thought the main family that Caesar interacts with (Played by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee) were appropriately sympathetic. On a slightly more disappointing note, those expecting Gary Oldman to be prominent will find that there's not very much of his character in this film, and aside from some actions he carries out in the final act, I didn't see that much of a point for him in the story.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, much like its predecessor, a very solid and enjoyable experience that's perfectly suited for the summer blockbuster season, but at the same time, never feels excessive or brainless like many other films coming out in this period can be. While I'm not going to go as far as saying that it's one of the best action films ever like I've seen other reviews proclaim, it is definitely worth checking out if you enjoyed Rise, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Caesar and his clan.

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