I’m suffering from dystopian-future fatigue. After the Hunger Games films and Divergent, The Walking Dead and Elysium, Oblivion and the latest X-Men movie, I’ve had enough of decimated and decaying urban landscapes and stratified class systems and alien or robotic overlords.
So Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had one strike against it very early on. This sequel takes place 10 years after the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A virus spawned by scientific research on chimps has wiped out most of the world’s human population, resulting in the downfall of governments and an anarchic aftermath that wiped out many more.
Meanwhile chimpanzee Caesar (a CGI creation played via impressive motion-capture by Andy Serkis) and his band of hyper-intelligent and semiliterate ape outlaws, who broke free from captivity in the first film, have created a paradise for themselves in the forests north of San Francisco. Caesar has a son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), and a wife. He’s the unquestioned leader, ruling benevolently from his hilltop home.
Their peacefulness is threatened when they encounter a band of humans on a mission to restore power to the city by repairing a hydroelectric dam near the apes’ home base. Caesar warns the humans away, but Malcolm (Jason Clarke) pleads with him to allow them to do their work, otherwise the survivors of San Francisco will likely lose the little security they’ve forged for themselves and fall again into desperation.
Caesar relents, against the advice of his wary right-hand chimp Koba (Toby Kebbell) and his son. He figures if the humans get what they need that they’ll agree to leave the apes alone; if they don’t, they’re bound to attack.
Once the set-up and all the key characters are established, the story unwinds just as you’d expect. There’s only one female character of note, Malcolm’s wife Ellie (Keri Russell), so the future of Earth is left to be decided by males. While Malcolm is open to seeking peace with the apes, human colony leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and the trigger-happy Carver (Kirk Acevedo) are untrusting. It’s ultimately that lack of trust, within both the ape and the human camps, that leads to the inevitable conflict — with Caesar and Malcolm struggling to head off the chaos that others set in motion.
There’s nothing original in the film’s arc, which leaves its action sequences and visual appeal to carry it. Unfortunately the drab and dark landscape makes for a climactic battle that’s far less a pleasure to view than was the first movie’s fight on the Golden Gate Bridge. (I also couldn’t get past the fact that, in the hands of apes, guns seemed capable of firing an infinite number of bullets.) Caesar is a dour and uncharismatic lead character, the humans find themselves in a dire situation, and there’s little humor in the screenplay. This is a movie — a movie about talking apes conquering the world, mind you — that takes itself very seriously.
Which is not to say that it’s bad. I was just hoping to have a lot more fun.