Rise of the Planet of the Apes did a successful job rebooting the popular franchise. Now it's up to director Matt Reeves to show us what happens after the Simian Flu wipes out most of humanity. Luckily for us, it's a terrific journey which gives both humans and apes a more than proper amount of focus.
First and foremost, the special effects are astonishing. From the overwhelming amount of emotion you can experience by looking into an ape's eyes to seeing its back soaked in rain, these visuals are phenomenal and never faltered. I kept looking to see if one ape would seem blatantly fake when there were massive crowds of them, but it didn't happen. The plot's constantly working to give the viewer an emotional connection to these fictional beings and the special effects always succeed in making you feel like they're right there on the set with the rest of the cast and crew. It's that good.
The action may not be frequent, but it's most definitely unforgettable. When the big assault finally happened, it kept my jaw dropped virtually the entire time. There was so much buildup to that scene and it delivered an amazingly gripping sequence. The finale is packed with spectacle and right when you think they're about to use a really cliche shot, they hit us with something totally unexpected and it's so very awesome. You begin to feel so invested in these characters and it really adds to the weight of these intense scenes.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may have superb special effects and thrilling action sequences, but what makes it truly special is its character-driven narrative. The movie kept a tight grip on my emotions and refused to let go. I grew to care about these individuals and the dialogue-driven scenes -- which are a good chunk of the movie -- were incredibly engrossing. In fact, they're so good that you'll likely want to see more of them before the big finale approaches. The script isn't heavy-handed with its messages or loaded with exposition, either. Instead, characters often have what comes off as very natural dialogue and it makes them far more relatable. Sure, the story may take some very familiar steps, but these performances and conversations are so well crafted that it doesn't matter at all (that said, there are some good surprises thrown in the plot). Many of the shots compliment the scenes extremely well, too. There's one shot that's hugely impactful and does such a great job telling us about the plot without needing to actually say anything.
Much of the cast gets an opportunity to deliver an emotional beat and honestly, they all do a fine job. However, Andy Serkis steals the show and gives a downright brilliant performance as Caesar. It's consistently compelling and you always want to see more of the character. This movie puts its characters front and center and does great work showcasing them without ever hitting us with any forced or cheesy moments. Yes, there's a line or two that seemed unnecessary, but overall it's a praiseworthy script and juggles its characters very well.
The only complaint that comes to mind is the score occasionally felt a little too over the top. This movie offers some very powerful scenes and the music is more than fitting in those cases, but every now and then it seemed like a more influential song was misused. Again, this didn't happen often and is a pretty minor gripe.
Movies that rely on special effects tend to focus on pleasing your eyes but leave your brain in the dust. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes satisfies both equally. It has all of the elements required to be an excellent summer blockbuster -- amazing visuals and big action sequences -- but it also has a heartfelt script and offers a brilliant character-driven experience. It's intelligent, emotionally gripping, and full of spectacle. It's without question one of the most impressive movies to open this year and absolutely deserves to be seen on the big screen.