Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In an age when movie-going audiences have come to expect nothing from summer blockbusters except bloated action scenes, bad scripts and poorly developed characters, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a refreshing change. This sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after the events of the earlier film. A simian flu developed by human scientists seeking a cure for Alzheimer's disease has mutated, and it has wiped out most of the world's human population, and a new race of super-intelligent apes has evolved and set up a makeshift city on the outskirts of San Francisco.

The story deals with two major conflicts, the one between the apes and the surviving humans, and the second between different factions within the ape city. One faction is led by Caesar, who wishes to co-exist peacefully with the human race and the other is led by Koba, who fears the humans and wishes to destroy them. While not as complex as its predecessor, which dealt with some serious social and scientific issues, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is more of a standard issue action movie, but it still has some excellent performances in it.

First and foremost is, of course, Andy Sirkis as Caesar. Through the wonders of motion capture technology it is now possible to transform this wonderful actor, previously known for superb work as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, into an ape statesman and Messiah. I'm not sure how it's possible to make an ape appear charismatic and presidential, but Mr. Sirkis manages to succeed in doing that.

Also in the cast are Gary Oldman (The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, Sid and Nancy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as the leader of the human survivors. Jason Clarke (Zero Dark 30, Lawless, The Great Gatsby) plays a human who empathizes with the apes. Kerri Russell (The Americans, The Upside of Anger) is the female lead and Kodi Smitt-McPhee plays Clarke's son. They all do reasonably good jobs playing their characters, but their roles are overshadowed by Caesar and the citizens of his ape kingdom. Toby Kebbell plays a convincing role as Koba, the psychotic human-hating chimpanzee who leads a brigade of gun-toting, horse-riding apes in an attack against the human settlement. This scene is probably the coolest in the film and not to be missed.

The film is directed by Matt Reeves, who is probably best recognized for creating the television series Felicity in the 1990s. He does a remarkable job with this film given that the only thing he is remembered for is a dramedy about 20-somethings, which first went on the air over ten years ago.

The writing team consists of Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bombach. Jaffa and Silver return after writing Rise of Planet of the Apes. Bombach is known for writing Total Recall, Live Free or Die Hard and The Wolverine. The three do a good job with this script, creating a humanistic action movie, something which, while filled with guns and explosions, is actually quite sophisticated and is several cuts above the garbage produced recently by Michael Bay, otherwise known as Transformers: Age of Extinction.

This is a good movie. Two thumbs up.