‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Reviews: Does This Sequel ‘Rise’ Above Its Predecessor?

Yes — and no — depending on what critic you ask, but the majority seem to agree on one thing: it’s still pretty good

20th Century Fox

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the latest sequel a studio hopes will make big bucks at the box office this summer, and according to the vast majority of critics, it’s actually worth the audiences’ money.

The follow up to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” in which James Franco accidentally doomed humanity by creating the first in a race of super monkeys and a deadly virus to boot, is on the path to being one of the best reviewed movies of the year. With 31 out of 32 reviews currently being counted on Rotten Tomatoes as positive, “Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves‘ addition to the 20th Century Fox franchise has a 97 percent approval rating.

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Although TheWrap‘s critic, Alonso Duralde, had his review counted as praise by the critic aggregator, his conclusion came with a caveat.

“The exciting and intelligent ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ gave reboots a good name three summers ago, but ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,’ while solidly entertaining, doesn’t accomplish the same feat for sequels,” Duralde wrote. “The story keeps a steady clip, and the CG effects are impressive, but the film never lives up to the promise of the best science fiction and its ability to use the future to tell us something about the present.”

“Dawn” takes place 10 years after “Rise,” a time when the humans that survived the massive plague are struggling to survive the aftermath in a San Francisco colony, while apes led by Ceasar (Andy Serkis) — Franco’s former pet monkey — are thriving in a secluded tree fort in the forest. The two clans clash when a team of survivors, led by Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thiry”), are trying to reach a dam to generate electricity they desperately need and one of the humans shoots an ape he comes across in the forest.

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Village Voice critic Stephanie Zacharek did not find the same flaws as Duralde, and declared the film to be “a much better and far less silly movie than its predecessor.”

“‘Dawn’ has the distinction of being a summer spectacle that respects its audience instead of just pummeling it into submission,” Zacherek wrote. “[Reeves] never allows the movie’s scale, colossal as it is, to overwhelm the story.”

TimeOut critic Tom Huddleston gave the movie about the inevitability of war when fear overrides compassion four out of five stars, even if he, too, thought “Rise” was more ambitious in certain aspects.

“It may lack its predecessor’s lofty ambitions, but once the bullets, spears and hairy fists start flying you’ll be too wrapped up to care,” Huddleston wrote. “The effects are nothing short of jawdropping: rarely has CGI been employed with such dexterity and depth. Caesar and his followers are complete characters, rendered flawlessly down to each wrinkle and back hair (though it can be just a little tricky at times to tell them apart). ‘Cloverfield’ director Matt Reeves marshals his action sequences superbly – a ferocious central battle is a triumph.”

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Vanity Fair critic Richard Lawson was impressed by just how complex, emotional and even surprising the movie is, even thought the very title gives away its conclusion.

“It’s right there in the title that this planet will at some point go to the apes, and yet knowing the grim end doesn’t lessen the films’ impact. Really, it only heightens it, as the story becomes less a tingly bit of genetics paranoia and more a grand and somber look at the inevitability of conflict,” Lawson wrote. “This is heady, dark stuff for a summertime tent-pole picture to be mulling over, and yet this film handles it not only with admirable sincerity, but with an intelligence and dexterity rarely seen in mainstream, big-budget movies these days.”

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So it seems each critic has their own particular gripe with “Dawn,” but can all agree it is a solid studio tentpole that will leave audiences wishing for more like it.

But what about the lone ranger declaring the movie to be “rotten”?

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That would be ScreenDaily critic John Hazelton who stated “none of the characters are very memorable and the allusions to issues such as ecology and racism are too vague to have much impact.”

That’s according to a small blurb featured on Rotten Tomatoes, anyway. The rest of his review remains a mystery, as it requires subscription access, which just doesn’t seem worth the time to pursue in this day and age of free, ad-supported opinions that populate the web.