It’s always a great feeling to walk into a movie with low expectations and come out pleasantly surprised, as was the case with Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a prequel that no one was really clamoring for apart from the franchise’s most diehard fans. And yet by proving that it was possible to make a great “Planet of the Apes” film, it raised the bar in the process, creating a whole new set of obstacles for any movie that followed, including whether it could live up to or even surpass its predecessor. But while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” stands above and beyond the original films, as well as most of the other movies released this summer, Matt Reeves’ much darker sequel is unable to match the emotional resonance of the previous installment, although it certainly tries.
Set a decade after the events of the first prequel, “Dawn” opens in a very different San Francisco from when we last saw it. The Simian Flu (a contagious virus spread by the Alzheimer’s drug that James Franco’s scientist created in “Rise”) has wiped out most of humanity, while the apes continue to thrive in their forest community located on the outskirts of the city. But when a small group of humans (led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm) accidentally wanders onto the apes’ home turf while searching for a hydroelectric dam capable of bringing power back online, their arrival re-ignites the feud between leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) and right-hand ape Koba (Toby Kebbell), who have vastly different opinions on how to handle the trespassers. Caesar agrees to allow Malcom and his team to stay and repair the generator in order to keep the peace between mankind and apes, but Koba’s deep mistrust leads him to discover that the human survivors have stockpiled weapons in their downtown sanctuary, and fearing that they’ll attack first, he betrays Caesar and leads an all-out assault against the humans.