Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the second installment in the rebooted franchise that has seen a futuristic war play out between highly evolved apes and what remains of mankind. Director Matt Reeves (Let Me In & Cloverfield) raises the stakes by bringing in new cast members including Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell to go along with Andy Serkis who returns to his acting and motion capture duties.
After a man made virus known as the "simian flu" wipes out most of humanity, a group of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar (Serkis) begins to form a society of their own. With leadership in place built off of respect and a search for knowledge, the apes have created a peaceful existence for themselves in a wooded area not far from what is left of San Francisco. Little do they know that humanity is closer than they think and the potential of war born from desperation may be on their doorstep before they know it.
When writing reviews, there seems to always be one particular thing I want to get to first when discussing what I thought of each particular movie. For Apes 2 it would have to be the CGI which is flat out brilliant, amazing, stunning, and so photo realistic, you would swear there were actual apes playing parts in the movie and not animated characters built by what I believe are some really smart and talented people.
I seriously sat there in awe for the first 10 minutes or so just marveling at how beautiful everything looked and then my brain finally accepted the information my eyes were sending to it and allowed me to fully engage with the story which I soon realized was equally impressive. We sure have come a long way since those damned dirty ape costumes worn by actors and actresses when making the original films so many decades ago. Sure, those iconic ape suits had, and still have, a certain charm to them that will never be replicated, but the technology on display now is allowing the film makers to tell truly incredible stories unlike anything ever seen before.
If you liked the first movie, and I have no idea why you wouldn't have, you will find even more to like with the sequel. Where Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a more intimate portrayal of the relationship between Caesar his trainer and father figure, Dawn opens things up to more of an epic scale adventure that is destined to culminate in a head on collision between men and apes. Even as things get bigger, there are great efforts to keep the story rock solid by really getting into the cultural and societal problems on both sides of the proverbial coin.
Caesar is now seen as a father figure and mentor to his kind and his leadership abilities really begin to take shape as the story unfolds. There are so many layers and dynamics to the evolving ape culture and having so much depth brings a nice contrast to the human side of the story which has fallen into ruin and despair mainly thanks to the lack of available technology that we currently depend on and take advantage of on a daily basis. You can feel from the very beginning a sort of underlying tension that will force its way to the surface despite everyone's best efforts at keeping the peace.
Normally, you would think that a special effects driven blockbuster type movie would have little room for deeply engaged acting performances and, while there isn't much room for the cast to pull off Oscar worthy moments, what we do get is a roster of talent that pours everything they can into their characters. The one true standout of course is Mr. Andy Serkis, who's motion capture work continues to revolutionize not just special effects, but movie making as a whole. If you didn't know, he's also the guy behind Gollum from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies as well as Peter Jackson's version of King Kong. At some point, critics and organizations that hand out awards are going to have to recognize the quality of work he consistently brings to the table as there is at least as much acting going into his performances as anyone you actually get to see on the screen.
Did I like this movie? Of course! Should you go see it? Absolutely! Should you see it in 3D? I saw it in the plus format and, while I enjoyed it, I wouldn't say it is essential viewing. What is essential is that you take the opportunity to see this movie on a big screen (Cinerama for example!) as all the epic awesomeness deserves the large format presentation. If you wait for it to come out on video so you can watch it at home then I truly feel bad for the lesser existence you have chosen for yourself. Seriously though, get out there and see this movie as soon as you can!