WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.
In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes lovingly and powerfully reinvigorated this franchise by focusing on the mistakes humanity would ultimately pay for their arrogance. Unlike many dystopian dramas, it made character development more important than the CGI world around it. And while the follow up makes great beauty in its digital imagining of a world gone mad, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes fails in telling its human story.
Dawn certainly feels more like a bridge to an impending Part 3 than a standalone drama of humans struggling against apes. And that's perhaps its greatest strength and most paralyzing weakness. There's a certain inevitability to the film that keeps bubbling to the surface - each time humans and apes join forces, something conveniently happens to remind us that one will soon enslave the other. While apes like Caesar are deeply toned, human characters are nothing of the sort, leaving females like Keri Russell to disappear during the film's last 25 minutes, her medical background being the only reason for her value in the first place. Once the shooting starts in a tense third act, she makes her quiet departure. Oldman, for all the gravitas he brings to the screen, is so thinly penciled here that his one deeply emotional moment feels almost out of place as compared to the rest of his cold calculating military commander persona. Minus one scene where his humanity shows, Oldman is not really needed here.
But once again, even these elements are minimized when it comes to identifying many of the apes from scene to scene. Although Caesar and Maurice are easily discernible, others like Alexander and Koba are many times impossible to tell from the other, especially during the third act. Here, the mowing down of apes is equal to the experience of playing an RPG video game, with Koba's Rambo-like attack style almost comical. Reeves and the special effects team at WETA do excel at giving these apes life, but soon it all feels rather Transformers-like in creating a visual soup. Some might claim that a gritty movie like Dawn does satisfy our need for a gripping drama about the dangers of man poisoning his world. Granted, but it's the execution of that message that has me feeling a sense of letdown, even though the ending clearly shows where the franchise - and humans - are headed. If you're planning to see it, consider upgrading to a premium experience, such as 3D or IMAX, although I'm not sure if RPX or Atmos will have the same effect. If only the story were as compelling as the visuals.
Dawn of the Planet of The Apes is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and brief strong language and has a runtime of 130 minutes.
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