The newest Apes film features much to recommend it—and a few dam problems.

Title: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver.
Loosely inspired by Pierre Boulle’s novel.

Cast

Andy Serkis as Caesar
Jason Clarke as Malcolm
Gary Oldman as Dreyfus
Keri Russell as Ellie
Toby Kebell as Koba
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Alexander
Kirk Acevedo as Carver
Nick as Blue Eyes
Terry Notary as Rocket
Karin Konoval as Maurice
Judy Greer as Cornelia
Jon Eyez as Foster
Enrique Murciano as Kemp
Larramie Doc Shaw as Ash

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Premise:

A decade after events depicted in the previous movie, conflict develops between a colony of humans who have survived an apocalyptic event, and a colony of uplifted apes who have kept to themselves in a redwood forest.

High Points:

The film features some excellent scenes, including the stunning visual poetry of the ape village in the calm moments before the plot turns especially ugly.

The special effects have been used fairly consistently to serve the story and enhance the mood.

Low Points:

I’m willing to accept virally-uplifted apes. But for a film that takes its premises so seriously, Dawn monkeys around too much with the suspension of disbelief. The colony’s best chance at power is an old hydro dam? A few people can get it working after years of neglect? They don’t expect to perform regular maintenance, which will continually intrude upon the apes? The power grid still works? So do lights left untended for years?1

In addition, the humans perform certain tasks—like the attempt to contact outsiders— as though they haven’t done them in years. We know they’ve had power, however rationed and limited. Surely they’ve performed these tasks many times, even very recently.

You get a certain number of handwaves with this sort of movie; the makers of Apes want to wave using both hands and feet.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 You can only do some much with post-apocalyptic ape scenarios at this point and qualify as original. This film continues from its predecessor, but borrows less than earlier films from its cinematic simian legacy.

Story: 4/6 The tale moves along quickly, with strong moments of suspense.

It ask us to ignore a number of plot implausibilities, however. In addition to the accumulation of handwaving noted under “Low Points,” we have an ape revolution that moves with ridiculous rapidity. In too little time, the apes have learned how to use sophisticated weapons, developed an attack plan, and accepted Koba’s oppression of apes loyal to Caesar.

Effects: 6/6 I’m not certain at times if I’m reviewing acting or effects here. This film represents another achievement in acting by CGI and motion-capture.

Production: 6/6 Dawn uses its lavish budget effectively, but not, I think, gratuitously.

Acting: 5/6 Most of the apes and human leads put forth excellent, affecting performances. Serkis and the CGI people have wrought something wonderful with Caesar.
Some of the secondary characters feel lackluster, and Gary Oldman has been seriously underused.

Emotional Response: 5/6 As in the source material, this film uses its SF elements to reflect in thoughtful ways on human culture and history.

Overall: 5/6 Reeves and company have crafted a comparatively intelligent summer blockbuster.

In total, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes receives 33/42.

Notes

1. Apparently, they were made by the same company that manufactured the doll found by Cornelius in the ’68 classic.