So it's no small praise when I say that this latest entry into the series, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the best film yet. The events pick up a decade or so after the last film, with the escaped Simian Virus having decimated most of earth's population while leaving bands of genetically-modified, super-intelligent monkeys to take over control of the planet.
There are a few pockets of humanity struggling to survive, including a group hoping to restore a dam's electrical generator. In order to get the power up and running requires that the humans travel into ape territory.
Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the conflicted, but reasonable monkey king, so there's hope, but there are other apes in the group who see humans as a menace that should be exterminated. Conflict is inevitable, and it's not long after the story is established that the fighting begins, and audiences will start grinning at all the cool special effects up on the screen.
The natural inclination is to credit the special effects for the film's success. There's no denying that computer technology is so advanced that the talking apes up on the screen are completely believable.
There is never a moment when you doubt the authenticity of the creatures in this movie. Yet that's only part of what makes "Dawn" into such an impressive summer blockbuster. The apes were created using motion-capture, which means that the animators were able to transfer the actor's movements, and facial expressions into their computer generated creatures.
Thanks to actors like Andy Serkis, the enhanced apes are suddenly filled with emotions that can be read on their faces. It's no longer just a guy in a hard rubber mask, but a living, breathing character with wants and needs. Suddenly it's easy to get caught up in the world of the apes, and forgive me for being a traitor to humanity here, even cheer them on in their struggle to build a new world.
More credit is due to director Matt Reeves, a man who expertly juggles all of the demands of a summer popcorn movie, never forgetting that the story is the most important part of any movies, no matter how much is being spent of the special effects.
Ultimately, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is such winning entry into an otherwise slow summer schedule because of the engaging story and a director knows how to ratchet up the tension to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Of course, the impressive special effects and action sequences are what will get people to buy a ticket, but it's the film's emotion depth, and dare I say humanity, that makes this the best "Planet of the Apes" movie yet.