'Dawn" of the Missed Opportunity
By Kevin Thomas
Sequels can be a mixed bag. Occasionally, a sequel can rise above its predecessor (“The Godfather Part Two” and “The Dark Knight” are examples of this), but most of the time, sequels do not meet the expectations set by their predecessors, sometimes to glaringly disappointing effect. I am extremely sad to report that “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” falls in the latter category.
For every well-executed action scene, there is a boringly-written conversation. For every quiet scene with the apes, there is a scene of humans screaming at each other when everyone needs to take a breather. If this sounds like a lot of action sequels, then I’m sorry to say that it is.
The story picks up ten years after the events of the first film, and life has radically changed for both humans and apes.
The apes, led by Caesar (A brilliant motion capture performance by Andy Serkis) have developed a mostly peaceful society in the Redwoods near San Francisco, believing that all humans have been wiped out by a human-bred virus released a decade earlier. Unbeknownst to them, there is a small number of humans still living in the ruins of San Francisco. They are led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman giving quite possibly the least engaging performance of his career), a man who attempts to inspire the people, but is running on empty. In short, Annie’s hard-knock life would look great to these people.
To make matters worse, the humans are rapidly running out of power.
They know the location of a power source, but it’s in the apes’ territory. Desperate, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) decides to head in the area and talk to Caesar about activating the power source to ensure the humans’ survival. He takes along his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a doctor who used to work for the CDC (An extremely underdeveloped Kerri Russell) with him.
At first, things don’t go well, but Malcolm convinces Caesar that his merry band mean no harm. Caesar lets them work, inciting unrest in his ape colony, unintentionally starting a fuse that will ignite the battle between ape and human.
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” ended up on my “Best of the Year” list three years ago because it combined human emotion with exhilarating action.
I was able to feel compassion for both Caesar and the good human characters. Here, the human characters are underdeveloped and boring, causing the audience to feel very little sympathy (if any) for them. On the other hand, the apes are very interesting characters that I wanted to spend screen time with.
Whenever the apes were onscreen, I was engaged. Whenever the focus shifted to the human side, I couldn’t care less. It amazes me how the same writers who wrote “Rise” also penned this film. There was a third person involved in writing this film that wasn’t on the last installment, but, as much as I’d like to say that this individual is responsible for the faults of this movie, I can’t.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of this film comes at the very end. The last film ended cut and dry, where the filmmakers had the choice to make a sequel or not. This film ends on a terrible cliffhanger. I’m not against cliffhangers (some of my favorite films and TV shows use them), but this cliffhanger absolutely requires Fox to make a sequel.
Thankfully, one is already in the works, but if it wasn’t, this movie would end what began as a great series.
Some good qualities exist within this film. The action sequences are quite glorious. Though I adored the “less-is-more” approach to action in the last film, these sequences feel bigger than in their predecessor, making for some exciting action scenes. As in the last film, the special effects are top-notch, creating realistic-looking creatures with dynamite facial expressions. The quiet moments (where the apes are talking to each other via sign language) are the best ones. The conversations in these scenes are very interesting, making this one of the few times where I actually wanted to read the subtitles. Caesar speaks more in this one (as expected), but he does so confidently like a true leader, someone who could inspire all who listened to him. It pains me to say this, but see this film for the action and Serkis’s performance. Other than that, this is a huge missed opportunity.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language