In 2011, 20th Century Fox rebooted the 'Planet of the Apes' franchise, pretending the Tim Burton/Marky Mark one didn't happen and giving us a surprisingly heartfely movie about the evils of animal testing. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' succeeded as a sci-fi movie partially because of the realism of the computer generated apes, but also because of the good story, the heart and the fact that it focused appropriately on the non-human characters. Yes, now that non-human characters can be THAT realistic-looking, we can focus the story on them. E.T. was more about Elliot, but that was because it was 1982 and E.T. was a pupper. As was Yoda, in a movie that was appropriately about Luke. But in a world where the Transformers can be that realistic, those movies should not be the Shia LeBuff (sp?) or Marky Mark show. 'Rise' succeeded by picking up speed when the story shifted over to Caesar about the time he got trapped in that ape sanctuary. And that's how it should have been. It succeeded by doing a more realistic version of everyone's favorite part of the 4th Ape movie of the old series, the ape slave riot (oh, yeah!) from 1972's 'Conquest of the Planet of the Apes'. And, it succeeded in taking a franchise that began with Charlton Heston landing on a planet full of apes who spoke with British accents and grounding it in a heartfelt reality where a scientist was trying to cure his father's Alzheimers. The old Apes movies never explained why the Apes from the future could talk. 'Rise' did.
Now we have 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes', taking place in a world where the virus at the end of the last movie has wiped out a lot of the human race and the survivors in San Francisco really don't know if there are any other survivors out there. They concoct a plan to reroute power from a nearby dam so that they can communicate with the outside world and see who else is out there. True to what was cool about 'Rise', 'Dawn' starts out by showing us what is going on with the apes, who have their own civilization in the woods that they ran into at the end of the last film. This wooded area is where the dam is and when the humans trespass on ape territory, a shaky human shoots one of the apes. This escalates into a conflict that Caesar is eager to avoid, but Koba, the scarred ape from the lab in the last film, wants. He is embittered about the animal testing that he suffered (and was the theme of the last film) and he wants revenge. When Caesar, whose compassion comes from the fact that he was raised by a human, reluctantly allows the humans to work on the dam, Koba plots to overthrow Caesar to push the humans and the apes into a war. Basically, the movie is about Caesar and one of the less-interesting human characters trying to protect their respective families. They grow to respect each other as a result, only to have mistrust be sown by Koba.
Koba ended up being my favorite character in the film. The way he cleverly manipulates the other characters makes for some great drama and some plot twists as well. He's basically the ape Joker, complete with twisted grin. The 'apocalyptic' premise may seem a little cliche, but it was well done and the story was not predictable. I like sequels that are quite a bit different from the previous and this one certainly qualifies in that 'Empire Strikes Back' kind of way.
Great CGI creatures, a story that does take a few unexpected twists and a subtle nod to the music from the 1968 original makes 'Dawn' a darker, quite different and more dramatic film than 'Rise'. 'Cloverfield' director Matt Reeves really thought outside the box by making this one so much different, focusing the story equally on the apes and having a good chunk of the dialogue be subtitles from the apes doing sign language. There is more of that than the last film and it is interesting. Yes, the apes do their grunting talk ("Caesar...is...home!"), but they mostly do it while around humans (and they don't speak in British accents). Amongst themselves, they sign. Again, quite grounded.
I give this movie 3 Statue of Libertys out of 5.