Rupert Wyatt’s sequel/prequel/reboot/remake Rise of the Planet of the Apes soared by focusing on a strong core idea. Caesar–as depicted by Wyatt, actor Any Serkis, and their team of CG animators–grew from frightened and frustrated youth to simian fascist Moses. Divided between two lineages, and ultimately disgusted with both, he forged a third way (in the process tearing up San Francisco). Unfortunately, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes goes out of its way to make this path drab, confused and sluggish. Matt Reeves directs the film as Oscar bait, camera pinned to every grayscale image and scored either to a somber 3-note piano tune or a 1-note drum beat. Serkis is still game, of course, towering upright over subordinates who challenge him, in the process inspiring awe from human survivors (Jason Clarke, Keri Russell) looking to restore a piece of civilization. Yet, the land conflict between humanity’s remnants and the burgeoning apes is instantly subverted, focus yanked away from Caesar and given to scarred, duplicitous underling Koba as he prepares to wage war. Dawn‘s people are shown being fearful, but ultimately really swell and nice if it weren’t for those damn dirty apes following the wrong leader–quite a reverse from Rise‘s use of a franchise mega-arc to pass karmic judgment on mankind’s cruelty. Reeves lingers on this mealy-mouthed interpretation as if he were making some profound statement, rather than sucking life from the image of a machine-gun wielding chimp riding a horse into battle.