Apes continue their ascent up the evolutionary ladder in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to 2011's franchise reboot; like its predecessor, Dawn is more notable for its impressive CG work than its narrative depth. With most of the human race wiped out by a virus spawned by the same genetic experimentation that gave apes enhanced intelligence, the last remaining San Francisco survivors, led by noble Malcolm (Jason Clarke), find themselves at a crossroads when — in search of a mountain dam that holds the key to restoring the city's power — they stumble upon the forest lair of ape-king Caesar (Andy Serkis, in a nuanced motion-capture performance). Caesar believes inter-species peace is possible but is increasingly challenged by militaristic Koba (Toby Kebbell), who preaches war against people as the only option. Director Matt Reeves stages his material with equal amounts of ominous portent and impressive apes-on-horseback flair, culminating with a gorgeous single-take shot that surveys battlefield chaos from atop a rotating tank turret. Unfortunately, however, Dawn is a sluggishly grim affair, and one that resolutely avoids any meaningful racial and cultural subtext, instead content to fall back on clichés about hope and distrust, peace and conflict. By reducing the apes to simply generic variations of the "other" — and by twisting its conventional plot so that it can end on a have-it-both-ways note in which man's impending extinction is just the result of a few bad seeds from both sides — the film neuters any potential for the very type of stinging social commentary that was the original series' hallmark.
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