Digital characters have by now long populated our movies like unwanted house guests. Some of these CGI inventions, like Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings," have been pleasant, even precious company. But most have disrupted our movie worlds — and not just as monsters tearing our cities apart, but as awkward distractions to our cinematic realities. The name Jar Jar Binks will forever be followed by solemn head shaking. Never forget.
But in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," the tables have turned, and not just because apes now rule a world where all but 1 in 500 humans have been wiped out by a so-called simian flu virus. No, the biggest uprising in the sequel to 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is by those digitally created, nonhuman characters which have finally and resoundingly come of age.
That's the ape played by Andy Serkis, the motion-capture maestro of creatures like Gollum and a much bigger ape, Kong. Serkis played Caesar in "Rise of the Planet Apes," the surprisingly good origin story of the rebooted "Apes" franchise wherein chimps, injected with a serum meant to cure human brain damage, develop great intelligence.
Caesar was a fine character then, but in "Dawn," he shifts to center stage.
It's 10 years after the last film ended and Caesar is now a weary leader and firmly-rooted family man with a wife, a teenage son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and a new baby. Who gets credit for Caesar's deep, troubled eyes, Serkis or the effects by Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon? Does it matter?
Looking for a dam to restore power for a colony of human survivors, a group (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell) stumbles upon the monkeys' Muir Woods home in the Redwoods outside San Francisco. The encounter sets off panic on both sides, as the firebrands in each community — the ape Koba, played by Toby Kebbell, and his human corollary, Gary Oldman — urge their species toward battle.