One of the more pleasant surprises of recent movies was just how good the 2011 reboot "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was.
One of the more pleasant surprises of recent movies was just how good the 2011 reboot "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was. The complex motion-capture technology that brought Caesar and his fellow ape conquerors to life was light-years ahead of the rubber masks used in the original "Planet of the Apes". But what was really fun, especially for us geeks, was how the new movie perfectly aligned itself with the mythology set up in the original series. Whether it was showing us how Caesar made his fellow apes smart by exposing them to a viral drug or playfully referencing the astronaut played by Charlton Heston in the original movie, "Rise" was a blast to watch.
The sequel, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", is slightly less fun because most of the pieces have already fallen into place. The ALZ-113 virus has wiped out most of the human population, and, because "Rise" established we're in the same universe as the original series, the rest is a forgone conclusion. Still, this is a remarkably surefooted sequel, with compelling ape as well as human characters. With "Rise" and now "Dawn", this is shaping up to be one of the great modern movie franchises.
The plot of the new movie is kind of like a "Walking Dead" episode meets "Avatar", with the apes playing the role of the Na'vi. Some of the human survivors have settled in what was once San Francisco. In a nearby forest, Caesar (Andy Serkis) lives in harmony with other intelligent apes. When the humans arrive and announce they want to use a hydroelectric dam to power the city, tensions quickly mount, leading to a violent clash of civilizations.
The post-apocalyptic setting might bring to mind "The Walking Dead", but the difference between that show and this movie is I actually care about the characters in "Dawn". Serkis is once again a standout as Caesar, who, while undoubtedly a wise leader, still has a lot to learn about the nature of both apes and humans. Just as compelling is Koba (Toby Kebbell). Like Caesar, he was badly mistreated by humans. Unlike Caesar, he hasn't gotten over his resentments. In a very powerful scene, Koba points to his many scars as evidence of what human beings are really like, of "human work."
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this sequel is that it introduces an entirely new cast of human characters, and almost all of them have been well drawn in a limited amount of screen time. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), Ellie (Keri Russell) and Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are especially sympathetic. They suffered devastating losses during the outbreak, but they've managed to form a loving family in the aftermath, refusing to give up hope. Even Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the leader of the human settlement who sees the apes as an existential threat, isn't without a valid point of view. Director Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") assures action fans won't be disappointed, and seeing apes fire shotguns on horseback is admittedly cool. But what makes this sequel one of the summer's best is the thrilling complexity of the relationships.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is playing at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6.