As with many over-trailered films in the past, I feel as if I’ve almost seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, 7.11) start to finish. What surprises could possibly be left? And it doesn’t open for another three weeks. I’m hoping, really hoping, that something significant in the film hasn’t been revealed by the trailers. Do I believe this will turn out to be the case? No. Does anyone?

I wrote the following after seeing extended Dawn footage on the Fox lot: “[I have] a suspicion that Dawn might be not be quite as good as 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was basically the story of how Andy Serkis‘s Ceasar got smarter and stronger and finally broke out of bondage with his fellow apes. It was all about individual story tension — about the sand pouring out of the glass and the audience wondering when things would finally snap and turn away from James Franco and in Ceasar’s direction.

Dawn seems less personal and more group-oriented. More about military and political tactics than individual direction. Speeches, declarations, taunts, lines in the sand. An ape army standing in opposition to an opposing army of humans. Families and alliances and group dynamics.

“Basically Rise is like the first 35 or 40 minutes of Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus (i.e., the first 25%) inside the gladiator school in Capua — the story tension and the personal suspense element about when and how they might break out. Rise is similarly about the imprisonment inside the lab and the ape zoo, and when and how they’re going to break free. The first 25% of Spartacus is easily the most interesting portion of that 1960 film. And I’m thinking that Dawn might (I say ‘might‘) be like the last 75% of Kubrick’s film — the battles, Mt. Vesuvius, the Roman Senate speeches, etc.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was more intimate — about the story tension and the personal suspense element and the imprisonment. The big payoff comes when the apes break out and have the big fight on the Golden Gate bridge. Just as the Spartacus payoff comes when Kirk Douglas and his fellow gladiators break out.

“Once the gladiators break free, Spartacus becomes a movie about (a) speeches, (b) the gladiator army doing this and that, (c) the Roman army doing this or that and (d) betrayal by Herbert Lom‘s pirates. But once the gladiators are defeated by the armies of Crassus and Pompey and Spartacus and Antoninus are looking at death and crucifixion, then it becomes interesting again.

“My problem is that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes looks like it might be more about the speeches and the battles and the stand-offs more than anything else. That’s all I’m saying. I hope I’m wrong.”