Ten years ago, a terrible affliction befell mankind as a virus created in an American laboratory was allowed to escape and as a result cut down most of the world's population, leaving them far worse than decimated, as there were barely any survivors at all: billions died. Yet just as this was happening, another strain of genetic engineering had escaped as well, a group of lab apes who had become intelligent thanks to an anti-Alzhiemer's disease medication tested on them with unforseen consequences as the animals attained a level of consciousness equal to that of humanity. Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), there are thousands of them in the forests of Northern California, and spreading all the time, but they haven't seen any people in two years...
Rise of the Planet of the Apes revitalised one of the most famous franchises in science fiction in a way that Tim Burton's remake of the first instalment had never been able to thanks to a superb script by husband and wife team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver that understood the appeal of the series was at least a halfway intelligent plotline tackling major social issues yet never forgetting to be entertaining and suspenseful in the process. Couple that to the king of the motion capture Andy Serkis guaranteeing that acting a role as essentially a performance-guided computer graphic was to be reckoned with as much if he had put on an ape suit and delivered the character that way, if not more so, and a sequel was inevitable once Rise proved a hit, a sequel that saw Serkis, Jaffa and Silver return.
Cloverfield's Matt Reeves was your man at the helm this time, demonstrating his ease with the extensive special effects that had the film as more or less an animated feature in an update of the old days of rotoscope, and once again this demonstrated that done to most people's satisfaction, the Planet of the Apes movies had staying power, in particular when they could play out modern fears of mankind either being wiped out by their own technology out of control, or by usurpers whose mindset was very different to our own. Except this time around, the point was that the Apes were growing more human with every day, and that made them a lot more dangerous than if they had simply stuck with being wild animals: now they were organised, and deliberately or not emulating the former masters of the world.
Indeed, so compelling were these simians that they tended to overshadow some regretfully bland performances from the cast essaying the people, unlike the previous film where there was more balance between them. Our hero was Jason Clarke as Malcolm, only he wasn't really, he was more James Franciscus than Charlton Heston for the real attraction was Serkis' Caesar, an individual with real dimensions to his personality, and the other Apes followed his lead. Keri Russell was Ellie, the only human female with any significant screen time, which gave rise to accusations of neglecting half the audience from some quarters though that could be countered by pointing out the war themes in the narrative: Helen of Troy didn't start the Trojan conflict by herself, after all, it was those hopelessly aggressive males who were responsible for the bloodshed.
Here you were meant to notice the further the film progressed, the more human the Apes became, and thus more destructive and even murderous. Caesar's second-in-command was Koba (Toby Kebbell) who refuses to trust the folks in the nearby city of San Francisco (in ruins), ironically growing closer to us in his scheming and battle-ready demeanour than his boss does. You could chart this sorry evolution by the amount of talking they did; they begin by using the sign language learned in the lab, but by the end have adopted their hated oppressors' speech to communicate in a development with conscious echoes of George Orwell's Animal Farm. What this led to was a bunch of combat setpieces, as if there was a war movie struggling to get out of Dawn, much as it had in Battle for the Planet of the Apes the outline was drawn from, only improved upon. Yet only so far: the tendency to make the Apes more engaging than the humans, even with Gary Oldman as a neatly nuanced villain (everyone had their reasons in this) on our side, gave a lopsided air to an otherwise decent sequel. Music by Michael Giacchino.