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Caesar (Andy Serkis) clashes with the humans in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Image courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Caesar (Andy Serkis) clashes with the humans in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Image courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
ArtsRancho Santa Fe

Film Review: ‘Dawn’ evolves into triumphant follow up in Apes series

A textbook example of triumphant evolution, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” outdoes its blockbuster predecessor, “Rise,” in every aspect possible.

Years after a viral pandemic destroyed human civilization, a colony of genetically evolved primates flourishes in the forests under Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) leadership.

Their quiet existence, however, changes forever when they encounter a band of surviving humans searching for a means of providing power to the nearby city.

Attempts at establishing peace prove to be short-lived, paving the way for a war that will decide which species will dominate the planet.

In the years since “Rise” left its mark, “Dawn” has expanded its world in scope, intensifying the magnitude of the action and drama to build on its intriguing science fiction premise. The tension between apes and humans is always present and doesn’t diminish; not a moment goes by where there isn’t an apprehensive feeling as to what the two sides could do to each other should things go terribly wrong.

And where you have tension, you have escalation as well, thus producing quite a handful of riveting action sequences that pit the ape colony against the human survivors. Be it the attack on the human outpost or the climactic tower battle, the excitement factor shows no signs of letting up, all thanks to the film’s expansive cinematography and smooth editing.

But what makes these set pieces truly thrilling is the fact that director Matt Reeves (“Let Me In”) populates them with living, breathing characters. As much as Caesar and his apes are the primary focus (and rightfully so), the humans themselves are by no means uninteresting.

And regardless of their eventual outcomes, Reeves never forsakes them.

Emotion is felt, heard, and seen on both sides; the good and the bad in the key players, both ape and human, is visible and provides the backbone from which the conflict between the two emerges.

Under Reeves’ direction, this intelligent presentation on the differing societies — one thriving, the other endangered — doesn’t lose its soul, heart, or mind.

A human cast consisting of Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman is sufficient to guarantee the plight that the human survivors face is understandable, even if those who oppose the apes outnumber those who sympathize with them.

And speaking of apes, Andy Serkis continues to radiate brilliant complexity in his role of Caesar. In addition, Toby Kebbell doesn’t hold back his disgust for humanity as the ruthless Koba.

On a final note, of all the improvements seen in “Dawn,” the most noticeable one is the CGI; an increased degree of dexterity is apparent, especially in the apes’ eyes and lips when their faces are moving. Each ape’s body language looks and sounds more real than ever before, and their interactions with the surrounding environment are so tangible that anyone could see them as living creatures and not as digital creations. In short, the special effects are seamless.

“Rise” was a good start, yes, but “Dawn” is better, and with its combination of arresting spectacle and intelligent emotion, we can expect Caesar and his fellow apes to dominate the big screen for quite a while.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes

Playing: In general release