Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman
Directed by: Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield,” “Let Me In”)
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) and Mark Bombeck (“The Wolverine”)
The summer blockbuster season can feel like a chore sometimes. Mega-budget special effects extravaganzas heavy on action but light on compelling characters and meaningful story dominate theaters. I’m not complaining, mind you, because my love of movies in the summertime has been with me since childhood, along with all the ancillary merchandise like licensed fast food cups and original motion picture soundtracks. When the weather outside is hot, the movies inside often feel like manufactured products rather than works of art. We’ve come to be entertained rather than engaged, and it’s a position we’ve all agreed upon. Occasionally, though, the stars will align and one of those popcorn franchise films will feature wall-to-wall special effects as well as a resonant, edge-of-your-seat storyline with a depth of character that leaves you utterly amazed. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is one of those movies.
Set a decade after the events in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” humanity is hanging on by a thread after being wiped out by the simian flu seen spreading the globe as the first prequel wrapped up. Huddled up in a compound in San Francisco, a small group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) are desperate to get power restored to their small section of the city. The mission is dangerous, however, because repairing the hydroelectric dam requires them to venture deep into territory held by hyper intelligent chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of apes, most of whom have long-standing grudges against humanity.
While the 2011 film – a prequel to the Charlton Heston-starring 1968 sci-fi classic “Planet of the Apes”- suffered from the occasional subpar special effect and a climactic battle that required all humans involved to suddenly become stupid and forget how firearms worked, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is tightly-plotted and a miracle of modern special effects from start to finish. Moviegoers old enough to remember the days of miniatures and men in costumes bemoan the glut of computer-generated effects in current films, but what they’re really complaining about is bad CGI. “Dawn” is a master class in how to do special effects right, from the contemplative opening close-up of Caesar’s how-is-this-not-a-real-chimp? face to the chaotic clashes between man and ape featuring automatic rifles and armored tanks. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” isn’t just a great summer sci-fi movie, it’s a great movie, period.