(CNN) -- When it comes to this year's summer box office, Hollywood can't afford to monkey around.
There has been a decided dearth of blockbusters in what is supposed to be the height of the season. The Fourth of July holiday weekend was one of the weakest ever for box office receipts, and overall this summer has been less than hot for Hollywood.
But could that change with the release of the anticipated sci-fi film "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"?
Heavy on both realistic special effects and a social message, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" doesn't pull punches when it comes to its position on gun control. Variety said, "The 'Apes' franchise has always been a politically loaded one, and this latest entry states its left-wing credo in ways both allegorically implicit and bluntly direct."
The sequel to 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" with James Franco, "Dawn" stars Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell.
But the real star of the film is the ape, Caesar, portrayed by Andy Serkis. As leader of the simians, he, above all others, displays one of the central themes of the film: "They" are just like "us."
"Going back to his Gollum days, Andy Serkis has been a pioneer -- really, the pioneer -- in the hybrid form that's now known as 'performance capture,' " The Atlantic's Christopher Orr writes. "So it's fitting that he returns to lend his voice-, face-, and body-work to Caesar, the hyper-intelligent chimpanzee he played in the prior film."
"I'm an actor who's been lucky enough to get involved with performance capture from its early stages and seeing it evolve has been really gratifying," Serkis told CNN. "But it's also an incredible actor's tool and I've been able to play the most amazing roles." "I think it's important to realize that these are acted performances and they have taken a lot of work to bring the characters to the screen," he said.
"All the research, the physical work that goes into it and the work on set with the director, they're all pure moments of acting choices as you would if you were playing a live action role. It would be my wish, actually, for people to understand how there is no difference."
The focus on how seamlessly the digital special effects meld with the acting of those like Serkis might help stir interest and pull what has so far been a pretty lackadaisical summer viewing audience into theaters. It won't hurt either that reviews for the film have been mostly positive.
EW's Chris Nashawaty said, "There's a good chance you never knew you needed to witness the sight of an angry ape charging on horseback, double-fisting a pair of machine guns. But trust me, you do."
A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes that "Dawn" is "a satisfying movie and an example -- a dispiritingly rare one these days -- of what mainstream Hollywood filmmaking can still achieve."
Writing for Forbes, Scott Mendelson points out that the film will also be a test of the strength of the "Apes" franchise.
"For the record, 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' doesn't have to go crazy here and/or abroad to be considered a hit," he said. " 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' was a critically-acclaimed revamp of the beloved 1960s/1970s science-fiction series, one that basically ennobled the concept of the reboot. It opened to a robust $54 million in August of 2011, eventually earning $176m domestic and $480m worldwide, in 2D no less."
Although Serkis has been in the previous "Apes" reboots, this is the first time he has a leading role. "I mean, I guess King Kong was pretty much a lead as well," Serkis told CNN, "but actually he was sort of the romantic lead."
CNN's Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.