Andy Serkis. You know him but wouldn't recognize from a photo. When it comes to giving voice to a character, Serkis has few equals. You know him best for his hissy-voiced work as the slithery Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Oh, yeah. That guy.
Serkis does something I have not seen in 25 years of reviewing movies: He gets top-billing as an animated character in a live-action movie. That his performance is what impressed me most about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not a good sign.
It's not a completely bad sign, either. It's just an observation.
Serkis reprises his role as Caesar, the chimpanzee from Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar now leads a band of apes who have set up a colony. They haven't seen humans for a decade and assume they've been killed by the first film's virus.
But it's untrue. Humans survived in San Francisco. The two groups meet when humans try to get a dam working to provide power to the city. The reconnection starts with bullets and bloodshed, but eventually ends in an uneasy truce between Caesar, his troop and the humans.
Caesar also develops a friendship with Jason Clarke's (Zero Dark 30) Malcolm, who is leading the group charged with getting the dam working. It's one that's doomed. Forces in the ape colony and forces in the human camp don't like the truce or each other. It leads to murder, deception and to what will eventually be a third Planet of the Apes movie.
While Serkis, Clarke, Gary Oldman and Judy Greer are good, the real stars are the effects people. It takes no time to believe that apes can talk and that they've developed a peaceful, workable society.
The new Ape franchise kept its main creative force of writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. It adds Unstoppable's Mark Bomback to the mix. The producers also change directors, and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) assumes the helm. He's not as good or as tight a storyteller as Rupert Wyatt in the first film.
But -- to be fair -- this story isn't as tightly written.
The new franchise also doesn't approach the quality, creativity and acting level of Charlton Heston's original 1968 film. But it is light years better than the four films that followed.
Where Reeves, Jaffa, Silver and Bombeck stray is the unnecessary side plots. It adds a half-hour to a movie that would have been brilliant at 90 minutes.
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Judy Greer
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It's playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.
-- Too many warm fuzzy from Mr. Movie these days? Let him know at www.tricityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.