Who knew that a franchise based on talking apes taking over the world somehow would still be around today making big bucks?
And with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes not so much rebooting the whole thing as it was essentially remaking the fourth and fifth films (Conquest and Battle), it's amazing that a story we've seen told over and over is still putting asses in cinema seats.
I was no fan of Rise, those CGI apes were a turn off, the film itself was really clunky and I was nowhere near excited to see Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. And this is coming from a fan of the first 5 movies, especially the original classic. There was something missing from Rise, menace, stand out performances and a good, convincing build-up being part of it. With Dawn, we continue the story after a virus has wiped out most of humanity and super-smart ape Caesar has built a community of his own kind in San Francisco. The plot, this time, revolves around the humans wanting to fix some generator in the apes' domain in order to avoid an all-out war between apes and humans. Of course, with the apes having power struggles of their own and the humans being predictably trigger-happy, this doesn't go exactly according to plan and we soon find ourselves in the middle of a chaotic conflict.
The motion-captured apes, it must be said, are still hard to buy: most of them look ok up close but from afar, they're artificial. The reason why it's easier to let that pass this time, though, is that director Matt Reeves does a good job at building interesting Godfather-style character dynamics between the apes so you are interested to see how their story develops. Add to that a rather good performance by Andy Serkis (far better than in Rise), an intimidating ape villain and you've got yourself a group of CGI monsters you know are not there but which are nonetheless defined well enough that they become far less jarring to look at. The humans side is James Franco-free but we do have a leader, played by a perfect Gary Oldman, and Jason Clarke's Malcolm, whose expedition to bring power (literally) back to the humans is the thread linking both sides of the upcoming war. It's a fair cast but Malcolm's family really do feel like a bland waste of time: much like Brad Pitt's family in World War Z, their uselessness leads to them being completely forgotten by the end of the film.
While Dawn still has its flaws, its many plot holes and its silly moments, it's a far superior film to Rise in that it is entertaining, it has an appropriately dark and serious tone, some exciting action scenes and, most importantly, it kinda feels like a Planet Of The Apes movie as opposed to some shoddy end of the world B-movie which happens to have cartoon chimps in it. Reeves has managed to build something out of the messy film preceding his and that's admirable as I personally had little hope for this rebooted franchise.
Overall, I'd say check out Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes if the prospect of sitting through ape politics and talking orang-utans doesn't sound too hilarious or ridiculous to you. If you're a fan of those movies, you'll enjoy this one. It's still far, very far from being in the same league as that first Charlton Heston movie but hey, they'll never outdo that one so might as well appreciate their efforts.
An entertaining, superior sequel.