"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is a supreme summer movie experience. It's the rare sequel that's not only better than the original, but can stand on its own for newcomers.
Set 10 years after 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," this sequel is focused mainly on Caesar - the ape raised in captivity to who set many others free. He's now their leader.
The apes' peaceful existence is upended when humans they thought had gone extinct show up. The humans and the apes form an uneasy truce, and the movie tinkers on the brink as there are warmongers on each side.
The new crop of human characters are solid - including Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman. But the real stars are the apes, and how amazing technology has become. They are computer generated - created through motion capture with actors giving performances with all manners of gear and sensors attached. It's time for the Oscar voters to start recognizing this kind of work, and they should start with Andy Serkis as Caesar delivering an emotionally powerful performance through all this technical wizardry.
But it's not just the special effects. The screenplay develops these apes as characters more deeply and thoughtfully than most human characters you'll see all summer, if not all year.
This is also a movie that takes risks. Director Matt Reeves has made a dark and occasionally shocking film. I also love how the apes communicate largely through sign language, and as they evolve to be more like humans, begin to assimilate as English-speaking creatures.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is sublime sci-fi and the best big movie of the summer so far.
EPPLER'S RATING: * * * *
Out of five stars