Apes is now a strong contender for one of the best trilogies ever. Made for fans of smart sci-fi.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Like many folks, I was very pleased by the 2011 re-reboot Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. The 1968 movie had become camp, and every sequel since then had only gotten worse, including Tim Burton’s embarrassing reboot in 2001. Rise was a pleasant surprise, which means that Dawn had better deliver.

And deliver it does. From the moment the foreboding musical note introduces the title of the movie, you know you are in for a treat. It’s about ten years since the events of Rise, and mankind is in disarray. The same kind of genetic experimentation that gave rise (ho Ho! See what I did there?) to the likes of supermonkey “Caesar” may have also caused a so called “simian-flu” that has wiped out most of the human population. The few remaining humans band together in the debris of what used to be great cities; meanwhile Caesar and his band of apes have taken up residence in the woods outside San Francisco, which he dramatically called his home at the end of Rise.

The film spends a lot of time on apes instead of humans, and that’s a good thing. The motion capture is stellar, and the actors bring an amazing amount of depth to their animal alter egos. Christopher Gordon (“Koba”) practically runs away with the movie; and considering he’s playing opposite motion-capture guru Andy Serkis as Caesar, that’s really saying something. But their performances, as well as the rest of the cast, lead to really care about these apes, and make for a confusing time later when you don’t know whom to cheer for.

Still, things are good for Caesar. He has taught his fellow apes sign language, and some of them can even speak, albeit rudimentarily. They all live together in a great village, lashed together in conjunction with the nature surrounding them. He has a son “Blue-Eyes”, and his wife has another son on the way. Apes like Maurice and Rocket whom we met in Rise are back, and they are a welcome sight to see, as is their warm relationship with Caesar, their leader. Even wildcard Koba, another ape Caesar freed from captivity and disfigured from animal-testing at the hands of humans, can’t deny the success of their tribe under Caesar’s leadership, and has more or less fallen into line.

Things aren’t so hot for humans. First of all, most are dead. The ones that aren’t are scared, hungry, and desperate to reassert their place in the scheme of things. They also need the power that a local dam could provide, if they cold only get it working again. Too bad it’s located in the woods that Caesar has made his home, and he wants to be left alone…

But just as these two sides have conflicting interests, each group has separate factions as well. The humans led by Gary Oldman’s “Dreyfus” thinks his awful ends justify his means; but Jason Clarke’s “Malcolm” sees Caesar’s humanity up close and wants to give them every opportunity to work together.

Meanwhile Malcolm reminds Caesar of one of the few good humans he has ever known, his teacher “Will Rodman”, lovingly played by James Franco in Rise. Caesar just wants to allow the humans to do their work, have their power and go home. But Koba reminds Caesar of the sort of “work” that humans have done in the past, gut-wrenchingly pointing out every scar on his body.

This sets these four groups made up of “good and bad humans” and “good and bad apes” on a collision course; except that both “bad groups” have their good points, while killing in the name of preserving their race, sometimes even killing their own who get in the way. In this, Dawn is a pretty good anti-war argument, seeming to stress Caesar’s view that nobody really wins when such a high price is paid on both sides.

In the end, Dawn sets up a future in which Caesar believes humanity will ultimately come for the apes, in an attempt to reclaim their status as the dominant species on the planet. If these two films are prelude to the original Planet Of The Apes, then we sadly know how that war ends. But how we get there is interesting, and I can’t wait to see the chapter even though it may highlight humanity’s undoing.

My only caveat is that at 130 minutes, I found myself fidgeting just a little bit. It probably could have been tightened up a little, but not by much. With how strong these first two entries are, Apes is shaping up to be one of the best trilogies ever.

Rich’s Movie Grade: A-
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver; Characters by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver; and Pierre Boulle (novel “La Planète des Singes”)

4 1/2 out of 5

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