DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (PG13)
132 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***
The story: In this sequel to 2011 reboot Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, the forests outside San Francisco have become the habitat of a large community of escaped genetically engineered apes. The rest of the world has been decimated by the simian flu unleashed in the first movie. Small fortified camps survive. One day, a group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) stumble onto the ape colony led by Caesar (Andy Serkis).
In this competent but uninspired second instalment, an awful lot of characters talk about trust versus doubt and peace versus war.
These arguments take in both the human and ape camps and each viewpoint is given a passionate mouthpiece: On the human side, engineer Malcolm wants peaceful coexistence, while camp leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants to exterminate the apes.
On the ape side, Caesar (played by Serkis in motion capture) argues for mutually beneficial cooperation, while the embittered Koba (Toby Kebbell) wants to eliminate the species which mutilated him when he was a lab test subject.
It is in this overt moralising that the movie strives to rise above its B-movie roots to add substance to the cool-but-shallow premise of apes with guns. In this, the sequel to the 2011 critical and commercial hit, echoes of better movies such as District 9 (2009) or any number of "aliens among us" movies can be distinctly heard.
Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, 2008; Let Me In, 2010) aims for a tense mood of xenophobic paranoia, but repetitiveness creeps in. The for-and-against arguments fade into background chatter as the audience waits for the big showdown.
Oldman, famed for scenery-chewing, chomps away like never before, while everyone else mopes about as if the world has ended. Which it has, sort of, but the unflagging sombre tone and the father-son soppiness between Malcolm and teen son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are wearying.
It does not help that the set design regurgitates old tropes - for example, human settlements here are fortified, but against what threat?
Like all good post-apocalypse movies, it all ends in a battle, but Reeves shoots it in a low-key televisual style. He knows how to hit the right beats, but too much of this feels like it has been done better elsewhere.