The Battle For The Planet Of The Apes Has Begun. And You Will Marvel At What's In Store.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Director: Matt Reeves.
Writer: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback.
Cast: Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell.
Where it's playing: Everywhere.

We need to talk about every last little bit of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

In order to do that, there will be light spoilers. This is your warning: If you don’t want anything spoiled, make like a banana and split.

Here we go…

DOTPOTA picks up ten years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes ends. Caesar and his comrades haven't seen a human in two years, and it's assumed the ALZ-113 virus has wiped them all out.

But since escaping into the Redwood Forest at the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge, the apes have actually built a solid community for themselves. They have homes and families, they hunt food for themselves, and there's even a little school to teach young upstarts their Apes, Bs and Cs.

Things get a little hairy, though, when the apes unexpectedly run into a small group of humans — people who've survived the recent epidemic because they're genetically immune to the virus — on the apes' turf in an attempt to fix a hydroelectric generator at a dam. The humans need this to power a little sectioned-off part of San Francisco where their survivors are living.

Having a soft spot for humans, Caesar lets them go to work. He doesn't want war, he wants peace.

But peace is not what he'll get. His compadre Koba (the half-blind, very scarred ape from Rise) wants to execute all humans, even if that means betraying his commander. And Koba has good reason for his hate: He was once a lab animal; he was tortured and he bears the awful scar tissue to prove it. Ignoring Caesar’s wishes, he takes matters into his own paws, shattering the peace between ape and man and starting a war.

Better yet, it's a believable war. The special effects in DOTPOTA are breathtaking. And, in turn, they make this film the most confident, engrossing and fierce Apes released movie to date. The motion capture technology is better than what we saw in this film's predecessor and it will still be unbeatable years down the road. Avatar made this technology great; DOTPOTA makes it unforgettable. The hairs on the apes dance in the wind so naturally, you won't be able to tell the computer graphics from the prosthetics or, hell, even the real hair. Yes, it's that amazing.

But back to the apes themselves: Since Rise, the apes have started to talk like humans. They even ride horses and shoot guns. Better yet — or, from the perspective of our species, worse — they have all of humanity's strengths and none of its weaknesses. It hurts, too, that the humans are fighting two wars — one against the ALZ-113 virus and one against the apes.

The central humans we spend time with in film are played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Kerri Russell (Felicity), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In) and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight trilogy). Clarke bears the brunt of the interactions with Caesar, and there's something there, but the connection is not as dynamic as the one James Franco had with him in Rise. No matter: These humans seem to merely exist in this film. They are dull, humanoid stand-ins for the apes to hunt and destroy.

It's a change in course for the series. When you think of the original Planet to the Apes series, you think of Charlton Heston, right? Well, DOTPOTA will change that. When this franchise is over, you will only remember Caesar. You will remember his war paint and the fierce stare on his face that commands all of your attention when he's on screen.

But the real warriors of this movie are the humans that stand in for and play the apes. Andy Serkis, who gained attention as the selfish, bony creature Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is Caesar. The scowls, the loose and flexible body movements and the aforementioned intimidating stares? They're all put forth by a Serkis who've been covered in markers and superhero-tight black spandex. And, in turn, he transforms Caesar into the fearless leader that the apes need to survive.

Koba, meanwhile, is played by Toby Kebbell. And though he's no Serkis, his performance is still ridiculously cool. His tiny changes in mood and appearance give Koba a bruised, menacing ego. Koba is mean and proud of it. And Kebbell? He's an actor Hollywood will soon take notice of, especially as motion capture-type castings go. Kebbell can bend, jive and move in ways that any A-list actor who pops into your head can't. Real talk: If acting doesn't work out, this guy's gonna have a great career as a contortionist. His is a impassioned performance.

Really, there's just a lot of heart throughout DOTPOTA. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) expertly crafts an almost completely computer graphic-driven film that doesn't need to show skyscrapers being crushed or large robots dancing around to amaze. Make no mistake: There are action scenes in DOTPOTA that will leave you slack-jawed. The camera cleverly moves and bounces around them like an energetic guerrilla and puts you dead center of the heart-pounding scenes. But don't go into this expecting all-out mayhem. This is more of a study on survival, and it's mind-blowing. A lot of the CG is effectively used to make you feel something about these imaginary characters, and that says so much about Reeves' intentions. You can trust that he is a filmmaker who doesn't ignore the audience's intelligence.

Sure, DOTPOTA is, at its core, summer popcorn cinema. But it's the smartest of its kind. This is the movie you will be talking about as you exit the theater and for weeks following.

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