One of the only CGI-dominated franchises that I personal care about at the moment, the recent rebooting of Planet of the Apes has been spectacular, with both films delivering supreme, photo-real visual effects and narratives that feel topical and human and never anything more than they have to be. This summer’s upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes looks truly epic and is one of the few movies that I’ll actually spend $6 to see in a theater. And while not as emotionally affecting as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves’s 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is an aesthetically robust, smarter-than-normal summer blockbuster that considerably upped the ante in the visual effects department. Completely and flawlessly realized in each and every shot (minus the opening with the antelopes and the phony-looking bear), the apes are startling in their movement and fur patterns, wholly consuming in the face (especially in the eyes), while conveying true weight and scale when compared to the humans.
Andy Serkis as Caesar and Tobby Kebbell as Koba were the clear standouts of this film, with their motion-capture work taking on magnificent shape and scope, with intimate details to match the bigger moments. And because of their prowess as actors underneath their digital monkey suits, I’m able to stay completely invested and engrossed in the story and the action, as the screenwriters wisely decided to spend far more time with the apes than with the humans. Jason Clarke and Keri Russell were solid but sadly Gary Oldman was mostly wasted after a few effective scenes in the beginning; why cast him if you aren’t going to take full advantage? Small quibbles aside, Dawn of the Apes is an excitingly dark and grim popcorn flick with some great rain-drenched cinematography from Michael Seresin, and features more than one “how’d-they-do-that” stedicam shot, and some positively surreal action when the shit hits the fan in the final act. And besides, this film has apes riding horses while firing machine guns, which is always something one should see.