DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES begins after mankind has been partially wiped out by the virus caused from the first movie, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES…
And while this DAWN is a predecessor, it’s also a chance to begin in a much better, action-packed fashion than RISE. In a literal sense, the dawn has the sun rising... Thus, so far, we’ve twice been catapulted into an APES franchise reboot – and now they finally got it right, somewhat.
At the end of the first movie, Cornelius led his furry legion into the wilderness just outside San Francisco – here’s where they now live comfortably, using Sign Language to communicate what the audience reads with subtitles. Although every now and then the apes screech out a few human words...
But it’s Cornelius, with an expression of a punished kid just daring to get spanked one more time, or a method actor purposely holding back disgruntled rancor, who wields the true gift of gab with various commands, threats, or both at the same time.
On the human side, James Franco’s scientist, the original owner of the trained baby Cornelius, is gone, replaced by a group of ragged survivors led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm. In this pivotal role, Clarke does a great job, combining the perfect balance of pathos with intrepid urgency.
The logical member of a group of ragtag city survivalists, it’s through Malcolm where the real suspense occurs. He visualizes the spooky depths of the gorilla-laden forest, and eventually barters with Cornelius to get use of a dam on the ape’s (damn dirty) territory, giving his people enough power to call for possible backup. Some of the humans don't trust the apes, and vice versa... That’s the plot in a nutshell.
While Gary Oldman's military-minded Dreyfuss serves as a potential lead villain for upcoming installments, the main heavy is a vicious warrior named Koba, instigating war in a sneaky manner that causes the apes, sans Cornelius, to invade the humans in an all-out battle with guns and horses.
In-between bursts of noisy action are tedious moments of downtime, mostly involving Cornelius torn between man and beast. Yet even these melodramatic sequences lead to some kind of adventurous turmoil. And while lacking the addictive science-fiction creativity of the original series, replaced with a computerized Nature Gone Awry template, this DAWN makes up for what didn’t RISE initially.
By James M. Tate