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Set ten years after the events of the previous film, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes has most of the human population wiped out by the ALZ-113 virus, dubbed the “Simian Flu”. Caesar (Andy Serkis), now a father and husband, runs a colony of advanced apes in the forests of a destroyed San Francisco. After a group of human survivors lead by a man named Malcolm (Jason Clarke) show up on Caesar’s land, the Humans and Apes come to an agreement to leave each other alone; however, due to hostility from both a group of apes and humans, a war breaks out between all parties.

It’s astonishing that Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is anything more than a silly mess. After paving the way with an excellent, grounded reboot in 2011’s Rise of The Planet of The Apes, if someone was to explain that a film featuring a chimp riding a horse, dual-wielding machine-guns, could be part of a Hollywood blockbuster that is not only beautiful, but emotional, exciting and undeniably realistic, you might think they were insane. Yet, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is exactly that. It’s not only single-handedly the best film in the Planet of The Apes franchise, but the absolute best summer blockbuster this year.

Rarely does a film of this budget and stature (especially one with such a silly premise), have the emotional punch and beauty that Dawn of The Planet of The Apes has. In only his third feature film, director Matt Reeves once again shows his immense talent, creating an exciting and impressive piece of filmmaking. Working with cinematographer Michael Seresin, Reeves captures both the apes and humans beautifully, with numerous extended takes, creative shots and phenomenally choreographed action set-pieces. Reeves and screenwriters Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver also manage to create an emotional balance in the film, letting audiences feel for both the humans and the apes, never truly creating a villain in the film. There are various antagonists throughout, some more obvious than others, but each of causes is warranted, leaving a surprisingly complex story with strong emotional beats. Michael Giacchino’s score is also absolutely perfect, adding tension to the film’s action and a sense of tenderness to its softer moments.

It goes without saying that the CGI in the film is some of the best seen in a cinema and shows how far we have come since the 1968 original Planet of The Apes. The look of the apes is photo-realistic and it’s truly amazing what this team has been able to do. There is more emotion in the eyes of the apes then you may see in the entirety of many performances in other films. Andy Serkis once again delivers as Caesar, giving us a true lead performance that is worthy of stacking up against “real” acting gig. Caesar is absolutely the star of the film and Serkis lives up to that billing.

While the Apes are truly the stars, with great performances by everyone involved, the humans in the film also do a solid job. Jason Clarke takes over as the human lead and gives a good performance as Malcolm. Most the apes are obviously juxtaposed with a human counterpart, which adds to the great balance the story has. Gary Oldman gives the film a veteran presence it needs and even though he isn’t used very well, he works. Kodi Smit McPhee and Keri Russell round out the main human cast and have worked with Reeves before, so while they both don’t have a lot to do, they work in their roles and do a great job.

The action is fast and exciting, and while it can be extremely silly on the surface, it’s the emotion in the film that gives context to the silliness, making it feel less silly than it probably is. As mentioned, It may be hard to believe to those that haven’t already bought into the concept, but Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is a rare Hollywood blockbuster that is not only intelligent but has great action, great performances and heavy emotional drama. Oh yeah, and there’s that chimp with the dual-wielding machine guns riding a horse.