“Never send a monkey to do a man’s job.”

-Leo Davidson (Planet of the Apes [2001])

When news came that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was actually coming to release, I felt a sense of dread. The 2001 reboot was horrible, and I couldn’t imagine another try at a franchise that seemed to have melted away with the the ’70s like a bad acid trip. But Rise was something that surprised everyone. Maybe we had our expectations so low that the movie felt like a success, but I enjoyed it. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wasn’t a highly anticipated sequel, even though the first was well received. Slowly over the past few months, critics who had seen the movie began to sing its praise, and rather quickly it began to be one of the most hyped movies of the summer.

I’ll be honest, this is a hard movie to gauge. The movie is impressive and relentless, but at the same time very formulaic. We start with Caesar (Andy Serkis) and a group of apes hunting. This opening scene is truly spectacular. We immediately get a frame of reference of how the apes fight and move. The first twenty minutes are spent with this group, and there is little to no audible dialogue. This is arguably the most intriguing part of the movie. We get to see the makeshift city this evolved group of animals built for themselves. Matt Reeves (Let Me In) does an excellent job of making this community feel connected to the audience. Eventually, a group of humans arrive led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke). They are in search of a power source to provide the remaining humans with electricity. The skeptical Caesar welcomes them in, much to the dismay of the defiant Koba (Toby Kebbell).

The cast does a fantastic job of conveying the high tension situations in which they are often put. The truce between the apes and the humans is very fragile. Gary Oldman (Dark Knight), who plays Dreyfus, the leader of the remaining humans, is good as usual but feels a little under-used. Keri Russell (The Americans) as Ellie steals every scene she is in, and frankly I wish we had more of her. Hopefully, if there is a third film, she’ll be back. Serkis, of course, does a fabulous job as Caesar. Never has there been so much life in CGI eyes. The effects are of the highest standard. Not since Lord of the Rings has CGI and live action been woven so seamlessly.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a visual spectacle that is breathtaking. Matt Reeves does a great job of crafting a visual story and capturing this fictitious simian tribe. The references to the war on terror are subtle, but at the same time obvious. As a social commentary on war and false flag attacks, I think the movie handles itself well. But when a film puts forth these types of questions it needs to provide an answer. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have one. Dawn does offer much more than most summer blockbusters though, so on this merit alone it’s definitely worth your money.

Grade: B