Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rated PG-13, 130 minutes. Opens Friday.
The boys are at it again.
And by boys, we mean our simian cousins in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But this time, they are not up to mischief; they are looking for trouble.
If it’s dawn on this ape planet, the sun forgot to come up, and no one has turned on the lights. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) takes a dark approach, both thematically and textually.
In a continuous array of bleak landscapes that look as though they were filmed with a bulb missing, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes never slackens in its grim intensity. Working from a script by a trio of writers, Reeves admirably creates a feeling of constant menace and then uses that moodiness to sustain tension throughout the film.
Dawn breaks about a decade after 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A “simian flu” has infected Earth, leaving only pockets of survivors across the globe. Outside an unrecognizable San Francisco, a colony of apes has thrived, led by former renegade Caesar (Andy Serkis).
This first part of the film, perhaps not coincidentally, resembles Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, populated only by apes until unevolved humans arrive to break up the reverie. The nondescript humans, led by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, need access to the apes’ area to try to reconnect an old dam that will restore power to the area.
From that point, Reeves delicately balances his two sides, first making it look like the apes and humans might get along, until rebellious forces on both sides make that impossible.
To sustain his narrative, Reeves seamlessly mixes battle sequences, an abundance of computer-generated images, animatronics, splashy special effects, and a bunch of guys in monkey suits. Reeves effectively, if darkly, conjures up human fear, turning his science-fiction fantasy into a true horror story.
As a result, several messages seem to be working simultaneously: Apes are humans too; humans are apes too; and if guns were outlawed, only apes would have guns.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic who has worked for the Denton Record-Chronicle for more than 20 years. He lives in Dallas.