Dawn of the Planet of the Apes constantly poses the question whether Man and Ape can co-exist in a ravaged world where a virus has wiped out most of the human population. "Can't we all get along?" The answer to this proverbial question is "no" if the aim of this latest reboot of the Apes saga is to get us to the beginning, i.e. the classic 1968 sci-fi film Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston and his time traveler companions land in a dystopian Earth that has de-evolved into a backwards Darwinian state where apes rule and Mankind has descended into a primitive primate.
20th Century Fox knows that it will take a few sequels to get us there, and this latest installment advances to a world where apes have begun to reason and talk, all led by Caesar, the smart chimpanzee that James Franco raised in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the previous film of this series.
Ten years have passed since the last film, and Caesar has developed into an ape leader, a kind of grassroots, simian revolutionary. He has gathered his clan, and made a community in the forests outside of San Francisco. Here in this primitive, secluded Utopia the apes have built a home where most are loyal to Caesar, who is the most advanced of his species as a result of his ability to speak. But all is not well in Ape Land. Caesar's leadership is constantly being challenged by the one-eyed, sinister Koba (Toby Kebbell), an ape character from the previous film who as a result of being caged and tortured has a big ax to grind against Man. Koba has evolved as much as Caesar, and is also able to speak, which makes him a prime candidate for ape leader, but a major threat to any possibility of peace between Ape and Man. Over on the other side, a handful of humans, led by Gary Oldman, are living in the ruins of San Francisco. When a small party of humans venture into the land of the apes searching for a hydroelectric station, that's when the conflicts begin.
The humans, led by Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, are a likeable, brave couple, and eventually Caesar is wise enough to understand their good intentions. Likewise teen actor Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays Ms. Russell's son, establishes a great friendship bond with Maurice, the huge orangutan played with great tenderness and nobility by Karin Konoval. The inter species relationships in this film are well handled, and provide much of the memorable material in the film, whether it be a tender scene between a teenager and an ape reading a book together, or a woman coming to the aid of Caesar's ill postpartum female.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the kind of entertainment Hollywood once knew how to produce and release by the dozen during the summer months. It's puzzling how the industry has gotten lost amid super hero franchises, and questionable reboots that don't deliver. Finally there's a film to ignite this drab, uninteresting season. I have no doubt that it will prove a smash hit at the box office (it grossed a gorilla-sized 73 million on its first weekend) provided that there is enough word of mouth from the audience to keep it alive.