Reel Review | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Let’s get right to it: although the comparison could set unrealistic expectations, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” ranks up there with “The Godfather Part II” and “The Empire Strikes Back” as one of the best sequels ever made. Yes, it’s that good!

The story picks up 10 years after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” as human civilization struggles to survive the spread of the simian flu. All this time, Caesar and his family of apes are flourishing in the Muir Woods (just north of San Francisco). Eventually, humans and apes come in contact, triggering a series of events that could lead to war.

The story is told at an elegant pace, character development at the forefront of the first two acts. Which isn’t to say that this is a big budget art house film; an intensity builds from scene to scene and eventually climaxes in the third act. Although it features some of the best action of the summer, it’s the smaller, more intimate scenes that make the film so incredible. Director Matt Reeves understands the importance of having the audience connect with all of the characters and takes his time making sure we understand their motivations. This story doesn’t play out as a simple exposition of good versus evil. There is a finely textured nuance to each character that unfolds in a manner that never panders. It treats its audience with a large measure of intelligence, something rarely seen in big budget summer blockbusters. As with most great science fiction, the film also serves as an allegory to issues facing contemporary society without becoming overly preachy.

Technically, the film is a sight to behold. The CGI work done by WETA is amazing and not once did I have a sense of uncanny valley as with the first film. WETA’s work combines with the motion capture performances of Andy Serkis and crew to create a sense of realism that wasn’t previously possible. Shooting the film in 3D, Reeves uses the technology more as an immersion tool than as a gimmick. This buoys the films greatest triumph: even though the subject matter deals with fantasy, within the first 10 minutes the audience is convinced that it’s watching a story completely based in reality.

With only four directing credits to his name, Reeves has already created a nice resume for himself when it comes to visuals. He’s like a chameleon, altering his visual style based upon the subject matter rather than forcing a specific approach. There are countless incredible shots, but never once do supersede the film itself. From a visual aspect, this is hands down one of the best crafted films of the year.

Michael Giacchino‘s music also deserves recognition. The first cue brilliantly establishes the dramatic somber tone that permeates the film, and the action cues compliment the visuals perfectly. The best cues, though, are those in which Giacchino captures the spirit of Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking 1968 score. The unique mixture of percussive elements creates an ape theme that is both militaristic and foreign at the same time. This easily ranks as one of Giacchino’s best scores to date and re-affirms why he is the heir apparent to John Williams.

If one were to nitpick, they could complain that the human characters were underdeveloped or that the 3rd act loses the elegant pacing of the first two acts, but these are honestly minor things within the context of the whole.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a brilliant, intelligent science fiction masterpiece that shows you don’t need endless explosions and over the top noise (I’m looking at you Michael Bay) to entertain the summer movie going audience.

Story/Acting – 23/25
Visuals – 24/25
Audio/Music – 24/25
Entertainment – 24/25

OVERALL RATING: 95/100

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Dave Ziemer has been reviewing movies for over ten years. He is the founder and was the Program Director of SiriusXM Radio's Cinemagic channel.