Grade: A-


Directed by Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman

Before anything can be said about the rest of the film, let's all celebrate the feat that is Andy Serkis' performance in as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Okay. Now that that's done, let's move on to celebrating Matt Reeves' crowning summer blockbuster, a fun thrill ride worth every moment of your time.

A sequel to 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes was inevitable from the beginning. The original was a crowd favorite and featured some pretty amazing effects. Skip three years to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the story of Caesar the ape isn't anything to laugh at. He's fierce. He's in charge. He's smart. As part of the audience, you almost feel just as unnerved and scared as the humans in the film the first time he decides to speak. While the 1970s films are classics, this new franchise takes an entertaining idea and makes it so realistic you can't help but watch in awe.

It's been a decade since the viral outbreak that basically caused millions of people to become infected and apes to genetically evolve into more mature beings than ever imagined. Caesar leads an army of apes in their home in the woods outside of San Francisco. When a team of surviving humans venture into the woods to hopefully restore power to a dam in order to bring electricity back to the city, Caesar's primates are not too thrilled. Caesar, feeling threatened by the presence of weapons, shows a trusting soft spot for the humans and their cause and decides to allow them access, despite warnings and disagreements with his comrades. Caesar's trust fluctuates throughout the film as different humans show just how disgusting we can be. But not all apes are created equal as we quickly see one of their own turning on the leader for personal gain. An all-out war basically breaks loose and the ultimate goal of survival is put on the edge.

While another sequel will definitely occur (the film ends with an incredible shot of a fiercely driven Caesar peering into the impending future), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes can easily stand as its own film. It's much better than Rise and will probably become one of the summertime's greatest epics.

While I chose to mention Serkis first in the post, I can't talk about the film's performances without singling him out as much as possible. Much can be said about the role of the graphic artists who brought to life each and every ape we see, but knowing the dedication Serkis and the rest of the performance capture cast (including Judy Greer) had to put into their roles, it's unbelievable that the Academy can't find some way to reward the efforts. Caesar is so real and full of so much emotion that it's impossible to ignore by giving full credit to the graphics alone. The human cast is decent. Gary Oldman can say anything and it'll sound Oscar worthy. Keri Russell has enough to chew on to show that she should've been given silver screen time a long time ago, not just small screen stuff. And, it's great seeing Jason Clarke get a starring role. But, Serkis tops it all. Serkis. I can't say his name enough.

What also sets this apart from other blockbusters is the dedication from everyone involved in providing a stellar film, not just a popcorn flick. I'm going to go ahead and call it that Michael Giacchino may get some Oscar love for his score. It's classic Hollywood and it totally drives the entire film. It's been since, probably, Gravity's film score that we've seen music truly effect a picture in this way. And, the praise for the effects kind of goes without saying. While, I think motion-capture will continue to become more realistic and may, one day, make films like feel dated, as of right now, it's realistic enough to create such an unbelievable image that it's mind-boggling.

If you're looking for a summer thrill minus superheroes and the usual muck, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is for you. It has enough action and adventure to fuel any film appetite, while also being smart and top quality.

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 130 minutes

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.