Matt Reeves' "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the latest 2014 blockbuster the critical community has embraced with both hands. "Dawn" has a 94-percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, putting the sequel in league with "Edge of Tomorrow" (90 percent), "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (92 percent), "How to Train Your Dragon 2" (92 percent), "22 Jump Street" (85 percent) and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (89 percent). Toss in other well-reviewed films such as "The Fault In Our Stars," "Godzilla" and "Neighbors," and this year's mainstream offerings have delighted even the most curmudgeonly critics. According to some reviewers, though, "Dawn" is the best one yet: VanityFair.com critic Richard Lawson called it "a high point of this, or any other, summer season." That's hyperbole, but it's not completely unwarranted: "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Neighbors" still rate higher in our book, but "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is right near the top of this summer's heap, standing alongside "Godzilla" as the year's best Steven Spielberg movie not directed by Steven Spielberg. Ahead, the four most effect parts of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."
Motion Capture Performances Have Moved Beyond Andy Serkis
Much has been made of Andy Serkis' performance in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and with good reason. He's fantastic. But he's always fantastic: From Gollum to Caesar, Serkis is the king of motion capture work, and he has been an incredible ambassador for the technology both onscreen and off. Where "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" breaks new ground, however, is in its motion-capture ensemble. Serkis is the lead of the film, but don't sleep on Toby Kebbell (playing Koba, the antagonist ape), Nick Thurston (as Serkis' onscreen son) or even Judy Greer (as Serkis' onscreen wife). Rich and layered performances all, these actors are every bit as good as Serkis. Motion-capture acting may never receive recognition from awards voters, but more group outings like this one will go a long way to legitimizing digitally enhanced performances.
This Is An Anti-Gun Blockbuster
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" doesn't come right out and state that guns are bad, but it also kind of does. The film's ultimate tragedy kickstarts with a scared human shooting an ape, an event that leads to an all-out war. The moral of this film, then, could be read as follows: no guns, no war. "Unlike unflinching war movies like 'Saving Private Ryan,' there’s no glory in this fight, or overarching moral ambition, or even a clear victory," wrote Katey Rich for VanityFair.com, as the site continued to own the "Apes" beat. "There is just confusion and death, all because a gun was introduced when, as the audience is painfully aware, it wasn’t really necessary."
There Aren't Any Bad Guys
Internet culture loves breaking things down to good guys and bad guys, but "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" has no room in its script for those distinctions. This is a movie where there are just apes and humans, and modifiers like "good" and "bad" simply don't exist. Koba, the antagonist ape, hates humans because of what they did to him in captivity; Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the antagonist human, hates apes because they led to the death of his family. That these males are angry, confused and outraged is understandable, and it doesn't make rooting against either one very easy. Which is just how Reeves wanted things to go: "I wanted the movie to have empathy for every character," Reeves told ScreenCrush.com. "You understood where their world views came from."
Actually, Everything Is Pretty Good
No kidding, this whole movie is top flight: Reeves' technique behind the camera is impressive, subtle and smart; the performances, from not just Serkis and Kebbell, but also Jason Clarke and Oldman, are sturdy; Michael Giacchino's musical score is gorgeous. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is not the rare blockbuster that transcends its four-quadrant origins -- this is a summer, after all, where "Godzilla" and "Edge of Tomorrow" also accomplished that trick -- but it is unusual that a movie this big is also this quiet, thoughtful and engrossing. "Dawn" is the anti-"Transformers." It's lack of bombast is as bold as any mega-explosion. Go see it and enjoy.