Overview: A movie about apes on horses with machine guns also utilizes symbolic metaphors about the darkness in our society. 20th Century Fox; Rated PG-13; 131 minutes.

Dawn of a Great Franchise: When Rise of the Planet of the Apes hit theaters, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What more material could be explored with this franchise? Like all great science fiction, the Apes franchise has always been about exploring social implications and elements of our own humanity. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes thoroughly traverses the waters of social commentary about protecting your family, racial prejudice, and war, all under the guise of a summer blockbuster. It is science fiction at its finest and I implore you to watch it immediately.

Apes, Humans, Heroes, Villains: There are no villains in this movie. At least not in the common sense. There are main antagonists that conflict with the ideals and good natured spirits of others – this includes apes and humans. Gary Oldman is almost good enough to be a show stealer as Dreyfuss, a man who hates every ape he sees, from chimpan-A to chimpanzee. He doesn’t want to hate them. He just wants to save the human race, at any cost. Alas, the real show stealer here is Toby Kebbell as Koba; an ape from the first film that was physically and emotionally scarred by humans. Both man and ape could be considered villains of circumstance. They’re not evil because the movie requires villains. They’re broken creatures struggling to survive.

The real star of this franchise is Andy Serkis as Caesar. Credit must be given to the special effects team at Weta Digital for accentuating Serkis’ performance as Caesar. The texture of the apes is on par with some of the best special effects ever put on screen (There’s a point where you can see raindrops soak into the ape hair. It’s that good). Serkis emotes with ferocity and pain. His struggle to maintain peace between the humans alongside Jason Clarke’s Malcolm is tragic in its futility. From the outset, it’s obvious it won’t end well. There’s no good or evil here. It’s not a story about man vs ape. It’s about the darkness in our own humanity. We can succumb to these faults, or we can stand together to overcome them.

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Apes on Horses! Apes on Horses: When the shit finally hits the proverbial fan, buckle your proverbial seat belt. The action is exciting but heartbreaking. Yes, there are apes on horses, shooting machine guns, while hopping over pillars of flame, but the emotional core of the familial themes made me wish it could all have been avoided. Even if it meant not getting apes on horses, it’s disappointing to watch these societies clash.

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APES ON HORSES! APES ON HORSES!

Reeves, Seresin, Giaccino: Matt Reeves nailed the monster movie and found footage genre with Cloverfield. He delivered a great remake and horror movie with Let Me In. Now he’s solidified himself with a modern classic science fiction movie. Reeves achieves such success with two key benefactors: Michael Seresin, whose color palette helps bring the motion capture apes to life, and Michael Giaccino, who composes a beautiful symphony of classic ape music cues. It’s Giaccino’s best work since his days on LOST.

Final Thought: All the pieces fall into place for a movie that doesn’t just continue the highs of the 2014 summer movie season, but offers one of the best movies  of the year.

Rating: A