DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Matt Reeves). 130 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (July 11). See listing. Rating: NNNN
Motion-capture technology just gets better and better - and so do the Planet Of The Apes reboots.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is the true starting point of this new Apes franchise, harvesting the useful plot points of 2011's clumsy Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in its first three minutes and never really worrying too much about it. This is exactly the right decision.
Taking over from Rupert Wyatt, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) establishes a more thoughtful and mournful tone for his story, which takes place at least a decade after its predecessor.
Most of humanity has fallen to the "simian flu" accidentally created by James Franco's well-meaning Alzheimer's researcher in Rise; the immune have established a colony in the ruins of San Francisco, but dwindling fuel stores have forced them to venture north to see whether a disabled dam might be a viable power source.
Thing is, the dam sits smack in the middle of Ape Home, where super-intelligent Caesar (Andy Serkis, reprising his exceptional motion-capture performance) has brought his fellow primates after their escape from captivity. The action is split nicely between Caesar's efforts to convince his uncertain family to trust the humans, and survivor Malcolm's (Jason Clarke) to be worthy of that trust; failure means mass slaughter thanks to agitators on both sides (Toby Kebbell and Gary Oldman respectively).
Where Rise paid lip service to ape/human ethics and rushed through its character development to get to what it thought audiences wanted, Dawn is willing to put in the work, giving everyone enough background to be interesting and complex - even Kebbell's Koba, who has a pretty compelling reason for wanting to wipe out humans once and for all - and finding actors strong enough to maintain those motivations once the action-heavy climax gets under way. Props to Oldman for seeing the line between commitment and fanaticism in his human antagonist, and never quite going over it.
But the real heroes are the mo-cap and CG technicians who've refined their process remarkably in the three years since Rise. Caesar actually seems to have some of Andy Serkis's facial features now rather than looking like the sometimes wobbly amalgam of pixels we saw in 2011.
And Dawn trusts its audience to watch long scenes of digital primates communicating in subtitled sign language - something the previous film seemed uncomfortable with - and hangs huge emotional beats on those characters.
I'm actually excited to see where this goes next.