“Humans, GO.” Those two words roared by Andy Serkis’ Caesar embody the premise of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a more than worthy sequel to 2011’s “Rise.”
“Dawn” finds the earth ten years after its predecessor and things are bit more bleak this time around. Serkis is back as the defacto ape leader Caesar along with his right hand man Rocket, played again by Terry Notary. Newcomers Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Keri Russell (Ellie), and Gary Oldman (Dreyfus) join them for the ride. “Cloverfield’s” Matt Reeves helmed this project as its director after “Rise” director Rupert Wyatt declined the sequel.
The film opens by explaining what’s been going on these past ten years. An ape-originated virus has wiped out most of the human race and the survivors are living without electricity or any kind of power. The film’s main group makes their home in a now ruined San Francisco with Dreyfus as their established commander. One day a recon team led by Malcolm ventures deep into the surrounding forest in order to check out an old dam and experiences the shock of their lives as they realize this is where the apes have made their home. One of the humans shoots an ape out of fear and all hell almost break loose until Caesar arrives and instructs the humans never to come back unless they want a war on their own doorstep.
Malcolm negotiates a compromise with Caesar and is allowed to bring a small group of humans to explore the dam to see if they can restore power to the surrounding area on the one condition that nobody brings guns into the forest. This of course is difficult for some of the group to follow and you can guess how Caesar and the rest of the apes will feel about it.
The film’s CGI is phenomenal as the ape community has grown much larger since we saw them in the previous film. The musical score also adds a poignant atmosphere to “Dawn” with the epic grand-scale tones. But perhaps the most impressive feature of the film, and this is no doubt the handiwork of Matt Reeves, is not only its ability to make audience members relate to the story in its dissection of the human condition but also in the simple fact that it will make you actually care about the lives and hopes of the characters. The prime example of this is a scene towards the end of the film, amidst all of the hysteria/fighting going on around him, Dreyfus sees a photo of his long dead family and begins weeping simply by the sight of them. It’s at that exact moment that we as the audience forget that we’re just watching a science-fiction film and begin to remind ourselves about what being “human” really means, regardless of our differences.
“Dawn” surpasses its predecessor in more ways than one and will without a doubt have audiences clamoring for the eventual release of its sequel. Matt Reeves takes everything that was good about the prequel and added his own directing touches to make the rare sequel that is superior to the original.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” opens July 11.