At one point in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
, a chimp rides through a fiery war zone on horseback, a machine gun in each hand. Eventually, he jumps on a tank, throttles the driver and takes control. As awesome as that sounds—and it’s pretty fucking awesome—it also makes it sound patently absurd to declare Matt Reeves’ film perhaps the most emotionally resonant blockbuster to come along in years. Yet it’s true, and Dawn
is a perfect mix of explosive action and poignant drama. As with Rise of the Planet of the Apes
, this film centers on Caesar, a genetically enhanced ape whose intellect has increased exponentially thanks to an Alzheimer’s serum that had the unfortunate side effect of killing off most of the human race. Caesar and his followers have settled in the Redwoods, enjoying a peaceful, human-free life. But when humans happen upon their village, tensions ignite and eventually erupt into all-out war. As Caesar, motion-capture master Andy Serkis one-ups his iconic performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
. Most impressive are his emotional responses—the look of pride on his face when his wife gives birth, the anguish when he is betrayed, and the contemplative sadness when he’s forced into violence. The action, too, is crazily inventive. That’s not to say Dawn
is flawless, and the human elements come off a bit sloppy and rushed. Still, considering this is a sequel to a prequel to a long-spoofed series that was already rebooted (horribly, by Tim Burton), it would have been remarkable if Reeves had pulled off a movie that was merely competent. Instead, he’s crafted a bracing, funny, emotionally resonant experience that might prove to be the summer’s finest offering.