DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Matt Reeves, 2014)
In theaters now
The second film in the Planet of the Apes twenty-first-century reboot manages to do what few sequels have ever achieved: surpass the high quality of its immensely popular predecessor. In 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a scientific experiment gone wrong leads to a killer virus that begins wiping out humanity and increasing the intelligence of apes. It’s now ten years later, and the apes are living peacefully in Muir Woods outside of San Francisco while a band of humans struggles to eke out a day-to-day existence in the city ruins, running on what’s left of their food and gasoline and desperate to contact any other survivors via radio. In dire need of power, a group from the city — Carver (Kirk Acevedo), Malcolm (Jason Clarke), his girlfriend, Ellie (Keri Russell), and Malcolm’s son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) — venture into Muir Woods seeking to get a broken-down hydroelectric plant working. When human meets ape for the first time in a decade, violence inevitably erupts. The brilliant ape leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis) — who was raised in the first film by Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco), giving him an inherent faith in humans — confronts dissension in his ranks as his battle-hungry second-in-command, Koba (Toby Kebbell), calls for all-out war, while human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) is ready to take the dam by force.
Incorporating elements from several of the original five Planet of the Apes films (made between 1968 and 1973), writers Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver and director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) focus on family in Dawn even as violence threatens. Malcolm, who lost his wife to the virus, is trying to rebuild his life with his son and Ellie, who has gone through personal tragedy as well. Meanwhile, Caesar is dealing with his pregnant wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer), and their growing son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), who is seeking his own identity in the large shadow of his father. Both sides, ape and human, are facing a decision all too prevalent in today’s world, a choice between war and diplomacy. The battle lines are clearly drawn, evoking such critical Planet of the Apes themes as fear, racism, the thirst for knowledge, and the search for a kind of humanity in all beings. Serkis is exceptional as Caesar, delivering a powerful, emotional performance despite all of the extraordinary special effects. His interaction with his wife and children are particularly touching. Kebbell makes Koba a viciously devilish villain, while the ageless Russell excels as Ellie, a nurse who is the fragile link between the apes and the humans. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which can be seen traditionally as well as in 3-D, is a superb action thriller with a whole lot of heart, a breathtakingly exciting parable about the future of humanity in a world that is quickly getting away from us. And thankfully, there’s more to come, with Reeves and Bomback working on the third film, currently set for release in July 2016.