(out of 5)
A decade after the events of the last film, humans have been destroyed by a virus created by scientists in a lab, with the remaining survivors living in the ruins of great cities while apes build up their civilization in the thick jungles beyond. A handful of humans scrabbling an existence together in what used to be San Francisco venture outside their overcrowded zone and come into contact with the apes, living under the leadership of the increasingly verbal Caesar, and beg his assistance. They need to access a dam situated within the apes’ habitat in order to restore electricity to their city and possibly find out if there are any other human survivors in the world. Caesar tries to temper his instinct to protect his population with a benevolence that could possibly avoid war with the humans, understanding that their fire power is no match for his kind, but his bitter and abused right-hand man Koba, still bearing scars from his years as a lab monkey, feels that they need to strike first in order to avoid being destroyed. Breathlessly good drama unfolds with intelligence and crackling tension throughout a film that matches its predecessor in all ways except for a conclusion that feels far too familiar. It begins as a thought-provoking look at the compromises and contradictions made on a planet crowded with competing organisms seeking out a functional existence, but ends as the same collection of fireball action sequences and good vs. evil binary characterizations you see in any other blockbuster. That said, the action is superb and the technology is used to its finest degree, particularly in the performances of some very convincing primates. A sequence in which Koba distracts the enemy by embodying the human conception of chimpanzees is poignant, and there is a healthy sense of fun overlaying the entire thing, even at most intense, that keeps you from picking too much at its less sturdy plot devices (particularly some very simple chimp sign language that has some impressively articulate subtitle translation). The humans (who include Jason Clarke and Keri Russell) do pretty well in support, though why they have someone as detailed as Gary Oldman playing such a throwaway role is a mystery, unless he is meant to appear in future sequels.
Directed by Matt Reeves
Cinematography by Michael Seresin
Music by Michael Giacchino
Production Design by James Chinlund
Costume Design by Melissa Bruning
Academy Awards: 2014