Let’s face it, high-minded ideas are all well and good, but can they compete with a chimp on horseback firing an Uzi? Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) was as thoughtful as modern sci-fi gets, ditching the 1960s-born franchise’s gritty dystopian roots for a smart story of scientific overambition (with a few explosions chucked in for good measure). This sequel, however, plunges us straight into the postapocalyptic pressure cooker: a future world of burgeoning ape civilization and fading human dominance, as the survivors of a devastating pandemic huddle in the ruins of old San Francisco. It may lack its predecessor’s lofty goals, but once the bullets, spears and hairy fists start flying, you’ll be too wrapped up to care.
Among the apes, the heroic Caesar (Andy Serkis, a signature presence behind the motion-capture effects) has retained clan control, leading his family through a decade of growth and prosperity. But for the humans, it’s a whole different story, as desperate leaders Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) debate different strategies for dealing with an impending power shortage and the encroaching simian threat.
The effects are nothing short of jaw-dropping: Rarely has CGI been employed with such dexterity and depth. Caesar and his followers are complete characters, rendered flawlessly down to each wrinkle and back hair (though it can be a little tricky at times to tell them apart). Cloverfield director Matt Reeves marshals his action sequences superbly—a ferocious central battle is a triumph.
The script’s shameless prioritizing of brawn over brains causes problems; plot twists are signposted a mile off, the humans lack depth, and the complete absence of a decent female role, human or ape, leaves it all feeling a bit punchy and macho. But perhaps that’s appropriate for this muscular tale of social collapse and base animal urges.