Advertising for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes suggests it is another summer film in which abundant action scenes obliterate any serious story or character development. First impressions can be deceiving.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — the updated tale of how apes surpass man as the dominant species — has plenty of big battle sequences. But it also gives equal time to personal issues like respect, loyalty and family. The combination makes Dawn a solid pick.
Dawn takes place 10 years after events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. While the apes have been hiding in the wooded areas of Northern California, an epidemic has wiped out all but small pockets of humans. One such pocket exists on the streets of San Francisco.
The humans are running low on resources, and their only hope is to revive a power source at a nearby dam. But to get to the structure, they have to deal with the apes.
Director Matt Reeves (Let Me In) gives Dawn a very human touch, both through the emotional complexities of the humans and the social structure of the apes.
The humans are a mix of the cautiously hopeful main ape contact, Malcolm (Jason Clarke); the deeply determined caregiver, Ellie (Keri Russell); and the emotionally broken leader, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). They represent the best and worst that humankind still has to offer.
Their counterparts are good-hearted leader Caesar (Andy Serkis); inquisitive scholar Maurice (Karin Konoval); and ambitious adviser Koba (Toby Kebbell). They show that while the apes strive to rise above the foibles that make humankind so flawed, they are developing into a society with equally as many problems.
Reeves blends these well-developed characters with some extremely impressive battle sequences, especially the showdown for control of the city. The computer-generated apes are nearly flawless, especially in how much emotion they show. It's a light-year beyond the ground-breaking makeup used in the original Planet of the Apes film series of the 1960s and '70s.
The only technical blemish in Dawn is a lackluster 3-D element that looks flat. Bad 3-D has become a recurring theme in movies.
When Reeves cranks up the action, Dawn packs a powerful punch. But it's all of the attention to character that elevates Dawn above the typical summer fodder.