By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Oddly, first the Rise, then the Dawn.
No matter. The good news is that another entertaining explosion of escapism about apeism is upon us.
The apes of wrath return in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the large-scale sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the 2011 reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise that has been with us since Charlton Heston was riding on the beach in 1968.
Once again, we have a humanistic science fiction drama with action-flick characteristics, a human-versus-beast drama, this one involving guerilla-versus-gorilla warfare.
And, by the by, the most technically dazzling, magnificently realized, and intensely absorbing Apes flick yet.
Ten years have passed since the catastrophic virus, called simian flu, was unleashed, and Caesar, the ape played once again by Andy Cerkis — who is amazingly expressive and empathetic — is now a leader of 2,000 genetically evolved apes in San Francisco, a colony threatened by the few desperate humans who have survived.
The apes have grown and prospered –- and learned to talk -– and they haven’t seen a human in more than two years.
Until now. The humans aren’t many, but they still exist, and they struggle mightily.
And the peace that exists between Earth’s two dominant species is a fragile one, as is the truce that Caesar helped negotiate.
Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell lead the all-new human cast, while Toby Kebbell is prominently featured as the human-hating ape, Koba.
Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In, The Pallbearer), who has taken the directorial reins from Rupert Wyatt, tells his tale from Caesar’s point of view. His mix of exciting, large-scale action scenes and intimate, low-key dialogue exchanges is adroitly judged.
Reeves keeps the level of tension remarkably high while offering a breathtaking visual experience. There is extensive footage of actors in performance-capture suits impersonating apes (and in real settings rather than only in a studio), but, in the name of realism, there is less dependence on CGI effects this time out.
But Reeves isn’t monkeying around: the CGI work that remains is superbly realized.
In the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes screenplay by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver, exploring issues of power and trust as it does, Caesar and the other prominent apes are full-bodied characters, perhaps more so than their human counterparts.
And in this second cautionary tale, the theme shifts from meddling with the environment to gun control, as the dangers inherent in using violent weapons to solve problems is a prominent and unmistakable subtext.
Once again but even more spectacularly -– and this is the highest of compliments in a genre that relies so heavily on the various kinds of special effects –- the illusions are somehow simultaneously astonishing and seamless.
So we’ll evolve 3½ stars out of 4 for the scintillating simian sci-fi saga, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a smart, thoughtful, and hairy science fiction epic.