starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell
screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback
directed by Matt Reeves
by Walter Chaw Matt Reeves's remarkable Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (hereafter Dawn) isn't the best sequel since The Empire Strikes Back, but it is the best sequel since The Dark Knight. It's uncomplicated but beautifully executed--so pure and genuinely-felt that its conclusions about the unavoidable zero-sum game of tribalism land as not didactic but poetic. That certain sense of Tennyson bleeds into the overgrown post-apocalyptic landscape, all torpid acedia in its human ruins and in a tree-bound ape village that represents a sort of circular hopelessness. We recognize it as the beginning of a successor civilization that is unfortunately exactly like the beginnings of the civilization on which it's being built. Dawn's best trick is in balancing our sympathies in this way. We cast our lot with heroic Caesar (Andy Serkis, in a motion-capture performance that is one of the great silent-movie turns, ever), who's pushing against a Cheney-manqué in Koba (Toby Kebbell). Caesar gratifies our instinct for the underdog: it's easier to identify with Adam than with Nero. And then Reeves shifts to a human refuge and populates it with people, specifically Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Keri Russell), working on a peaceful solution against the more bellicose and paranoid of their number (Kirk Acevedo and Gary Oldman). No fair guessing which philosophy wins out--it's the only one that ever seems to.