Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

(On Cable TV, July 2015)  Nobody expected much from the reboot of the Planet of the Apes series, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes ended up being a surprise success, taking seriously one of the campiest premise in cinema history and turning it into something both worthwhile and surprisingly affecting.  This sequel, surprisingly or not, improves upon its predecessor.  Plot-wise, this is a far busier film: Years after the deadly pandemic triggered in the first film, the apes have clustered north of San Francisco, living more or less unaware of the group of humans that have congregated in the city.  But when the human, fearing energy shortages, start poking around north to take advantage of an unused hydroelectric dam, the gears of war are set in motion.  Much of the film is spent is squirming regret, as the two groups move closer to all-out violence.  Of the human cast, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russel have the best roles, but the real focus here are the apes and how they are portrayed.   The stunning special effects of the original (good enough to make us forget that practically no real animals were used in the making of the film, just digital effects) are used even more effectively here.  Director Matt Reeves does well with the good material he’s given, to the point that a scene that impossible to describe soberly (an ape riding a horse, firing an assault rifle in each hand!) ends up not ridiculous, but terrifying.  Defying the odds for a second straight film, this Planet of the Apes reboot series is looking like a better and better idea.

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