A few weeks back, I wrote a quick review for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Basically, I was pleasantly surprised by how fantastic it was. It brought a fresh perspective to a franchise whose heyday was before I was born. Needless to say, when they announced that the film had a sequel, I was excited. The trailers started rolling out and my excitement began to build. To say that the bar I set for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was higher than my average movie bar would not be a misstatement. The film did not disappoint. It leaped over the bar and then brachiated over even higher bars. That’s the kind of movie we’re talking about, man.

The Review

I promised folks that I would keep my review spoiler-free. This is going to be an exciting, but doable, challenge. That said, if you haven’t seen the first movie, you shouldn’t be reading this review if you don’t want to be spoiled for its ending. Otherwise, here we go.

The movie starts where the first one left off. Humanity has been exposed to the deadly, lab-made virus that they have now dubbed as the “simian flu.” Despite its best efforts at quarantining the contagion, it’s all for naught as people continue to die in droves. Governments and civilization as we know it collapse under the weight of the dead and strain of the survivors. The apes, on the other hand, have created their own little world and are thriving in the forest they call home. It is now ten years after the events of the first movie.

Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still the leader of the apes and he tries to guide them with a firm but fair hand. When they encounter their first humans in two years, a group led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a vocal faction of apes led by Koba (Toby Kebbell) wants to kill them all. That knee-jerk, speciesist sentiment is one that is shared by some humans as well, notably Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). The small band of humans and apes come to an uneasy truce.

That doesn’t sit well with everyone involved and, as you can guess from the trailers and promotional materials for the film, things go poorly. By poorly, I mean things go terribly wrong. The movie does a fantastic job of illuminating the different sides of the conflict and their motivations without hitting the audience over the head.

So many things about this movie just blew me away. From the deliciously Shakespearean political plot to the well-paced action that keeps the audience’s gaze glued to the screen, there’s just so much packed into this movie that you want it to just keep going and going. What’s also remarkable is seeing just how far computer technology has come. The animators did an outstanding job of capturing the fantastic motion capture performances of their ape actors and imbuing the digital performances with such real emotion and expressions. It’s just phenomenal. Furthermore, the movie was shot beautifully. Director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin have such a wonderful eye for iconic imagery.

I don’t often talk about movie scores these days and I really should. I am a huge sucker for movie scores and only seem to notice when the score doesn’t really work for the film. That said, I want to talk about the awesomeness of Michael Giacchino‘s score. I don’t necessarily have the musical vocabulary to accurately list all of the reasons why the score is awesome, but I’m going to mention that his use of unrelenting percussion to heighten the tension is marvelous and perfect for this movie. This score is certainly one that I am eager to add to my collection when finances allow.

Long story short, I loved this movie and am looking forward to hopefully catching it again soon.

Final Thoughts

As I just said, I loved this movie. It’s not a perfect movie, of course. Few films are. While there are a couple of random plot holes, they don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the film. That said, I feel comfortable offering a few pieces of constructive criticism.

Guys, as you may have noticed from these past couple of weeks, I’m not just going to stand back and say nothing when you have a lack of female characters in a movie. Yes, I get that this is a movie about apes and not people and therefore you might feel that you’ve got diversity covered. That said, there are only two named female characters in the movie. One is Cornelia (Judy Greer), Caesar’s wife, and the other is Elise (Keri Russell), Malcolm’s significant other. While they are important to the main male characters and therefore somewhat important to the plot as well, they mostly seemed to be there just because they were important to Caesar and Malcolm.

One of the movie’s underlying themes is the relationship between fathers and sons, echoing one of the sub-themes from the first film. Caesar and his son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), don’t see eye to eye and Malcolm is driven by his desire to make a better world for his son, Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee). While the plot arc between Caesar and Blue Eyes comes across really well, the human paternal plot feels a little hollow by comparison. Who knew I’d ever be saying that, right?

Despite those little quibbles, it’s still a fantastic movie that’s left me super excited to see where this franchise heads next. Is it 2016 yet? No? Damn it.

Fine, I’ll be patient.