After a successful reboot of the franchise in 2011, those “damn dirty apes” are at it again with ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.’ With a summer already filled with giant rampaging monsters, superheroes from the past and present, and pizza-loving ninja reptiles, these primates fit right in at the movies these days, although they try to offer a slightly deeper message than yet another installment of a certain robots in disguise franchise.

Set ten years after ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, the sequel picks up after much of the human population has been wiped out by the Simian Flu and a whole new generation of apes has risen to dominance. Caesar now leads and governs a whole society of apes, including some of his allies from the sanctuary like his right hand Koba and the peaceful Maurice. Elsewhere in San Francisco, a small colony of humans struggle to literally keep the lights on, so their leader Dreyfus allows Malcolm and his crew to venture to the dam to attempt to get it working again to provide them with power. During this mission, the apes and humans cross paths, causing the fragile peace between the two societies to shatter, especially when there are those on both sides who questions their leadership.

The first thing that I took away from the film was the spectacular special effects and cinematic techniques. The copious amounts of CGI blended flawlessly with the real world environments and offered extremely realistic characters. But these computer-generated mammals wouldn’t be anything without the insanely awesome performances from the incredible motion capture performers such as Andy Serkis. The technology for this sort of thing has come a long way in a short amount of time and it seems like the production enlisted no one but the best possible people for the job. If these apes aren’t nominated for some major technical and performance awards, then it would be a damn shame.

Another thing that the movie excelled in was giving a thought-provoking message. Neither the humans nor the apes were the antagonists, so rather than having one or the other be the bad guys, there were bad guys on both sides. I interpreted the message to be that there can be evil on both sides of a war. Normally, I wouldn’t think this much about a summer blockbuster, but this one exceeded expectations in that department.

However, despite the many things that it did well, ‘Dawn’ was not without faults. For starters, I found the logistics behind the apes speaking to be very weird. After establishing that they communicate with sign language and that they haven’t seen humans in ten years, Caesar suddenly has the ability to speak after seeing humans for a few minutes. I feel like this would have worked better if the apes started out speaking and signing. It’s a little thing, but I recall being really hung up on it while I was watching the movie.

And as awesome as the ape characters were, the humans were lacking a bit. I was disappointed that we didn’t see enough of Gary Oldman, though when we did see him, the fan favorite actor certainly delivered. But those moments were few and far between and instead we got humans that weren’t very fleshed out. Jason Clarke’s Malcolm was probably the most developed of the lot and even then I was more interested in whatever Caesar, Koba, and Blue Eyes were up to.

But even more important than those points, the whole storyline with Koba questioning Caesar’s leadership after they meet Malcolm and the other humans was incredibly cliché. For a moment, it felt like the film might have been moving in a ‘Lion King’ direction (even down to Koba’s scarred face), but luckily they changed things up a bit. Regardless, you could see the outcome of these events from a mile away. At least everything looked really good while it went through the very familiar motions.

Although the plot was predictable and the movie ran a little long, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was still very enjoyable. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it was one of the better summer blockbusters this year. Or better yet, it may rank among some of the best science fiction movies this year. Not exactly top five, but probably top ten. Even people who haven’t seen it’s predecessor featuring James Franco will find that it’s a good watch because it stands alone so well. As someone who didn’t really have much interest in it at the beginning, I definitely recommend checking out this movie.

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