Beware: Monkey with a gun.

Beware: Monkey with a gun.

While much better than the Tim Burton reboot, this new generation of Apes is a mixed bag. The first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (the James Franco one) featured some cartoonish acting by the leads, or not at all, in the case of Freida Pinto. The film’s saving grace was Caesar’s story ark: It established a likeable hero with strong motivation and ideals.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ smartest move is making Caesar the protagonist of the whole thing. Andy Serkis delivers a motion capture performance for the ages. Regrettably, his work is not supported by a simplistic, at times boneheaded script.

Three years after the events in the first movie, mankind has been all but wiped out by the genetically-engineered virus that was supposed to cure Alzheimer (and enhanced Caesar’s intelligence). The few remaining humans immune to the disease are secluded in a shantytown in San Francisco, while the apes prosper in a nearby forest.

Need for electricity forces the humans to abandon their shelter and head into the woods to kick-start a power generator. This places them in collision course with the ape community, most of which don’t have the fondest memories of the shaved monkeys. For every good man and ape, there are a hundred of blood-thirsty ones ready for battle.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) creates some stunning visual compositions, some of which go to waste because of the inherent darkness that comes with 3-D. Caesar is as compelling as ever, more so than you can even see certain resemblance with Serkis, but the humans… ugh. The friendly ones (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee) are bland and uninteresting, and the villains, painfully underdeveloped. The great Gary Oldman goes to waste as the community leader with a grudge against monkeys.

By not building solid characters, the stakes in Dawn are rather low whenever Caesar is not on screen. In fact, the action centerpiece –apes taking over the human settlement- features none of the four leads, and there is no emotional investment in any of the villains. The ensuing gunplay is utterly generic, like shooting monkeys in a barrel, and allows the audience to check out.

There are shades of the Israel-Palestine conflict all over Dawn. Distrust and irrational hatred overpower good intentions and teamwork on regular basis, and no individual has enough pull to break with the circle of violence. In every incarnation, Apes has shown little faith on the future of human race and not even summer escapism can change that. Disposable entertainment it ain’t.

It occurred to me that…

Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes have established a stronger mythology than most sagas. I wish they would do something better with it.

…the image of an ape riding bareback on a horse, shooting two machine guns simultaneously is a bit too silly to buy.

…the apes won’t be wearing tunics or medallions any time soon.

…in this particular case, 3-D is a detriment to the enjoyment of the film.

…Toby Kebbell (RocknRolla) as Caesar’s rival Koba fails to capture the subtleties of motion capture acting. This is particularly noticeable next to Andy Serkis, who has mastered the technique.

…there are plenty of apes going ape. Also an ape-mance. Even a grape ape. Oh, wait… never mind, it’s the 3-D glasses.

Two and a half prairie apes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is now playing.