Credit: WETA

There's a lot at stake with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: human supremacy on a post-apocalyptic Earth, the well-being of a 45-year-old franchise property… the summer box office.

With ticket sales down across the board, Dawn finds itself in the once unlikely position of summer savior. The 2011 reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which starred James Franco and Andy Serkis as the motion-capture Prometheus ape, Caesar, was a solid critical and popular hit, grossing $176.7 million.

Expectations are much higher for Dawn, which is set 10 years after the events of Rise. Humanity has been devastated by the simian flu, leaving Caesar and his tribe of apes to prosper in the woods outside San Francisco. In the decaying urban landscape, however, are a ragtag group of human survivors, led by Jason Clarke, who wants to live in peace with the intelligent apes, and Gary Oldman, who plays an ape-hating fascist who wants a war while man still has the advantage.

Serkis, once again, is the major star. Since playing Gollum in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, he's become the Olivier of motion-capture, breathing life into pseudo-CG-animated creations like King Kong. With the even more-advanced technology and his finely-tuned artistry, you can expect another flurry of essays urging the Academy to recognize excellence in this growing field. "Despite all the obscuring layers of digital trickery, the actor manages to convey an impressive physicality and array of emotions, from hope to grief to rage," writes EW's Chris Nashawaty, in his review. "I won't spoil which side wins the interspecies showdown, but when it comes to who does the better acting, the apes carry the day, (hairy) hands down."

Read more from EW's review, as well as a round-up of other notable critics, below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

"[Director Matt] Reeves, whose previous films Cloverfield and Let Me In were stronger on promise than payoff, stages [Uzi-toting-ape-on-horseback] battles with amazing technical skill and a real painter's eye. His images, as undeniably silly as they are, are so striking they stick with you."

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter) ▲

"In the annals of sequels, Dawn is to Rise of the Planet of the Apes what The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars—it's that much better. A mainstream blockbuster with a lot on its mind, director Matt Reeves' synthesis of brains and brawn kicks it over the goalposts and out of the stadium…"

David Edelstein (New York)

"The latest Apes picture, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is an excellent interspecies bromance between an ape and a man who'd like to live in peace but are surrounded by warmongering a–holes."

Ty Burr (Boston Globe)

"Serkis's Caesar conveys the conflicts of a king with almost Shakespearean grandeur. His thoughts and passions seem to will themselves past the megapixels onto our sensibilities. Is this art? Technology? Some devilish mixture of the two? When Caesar is onscreen, it's a moot point. We're simply watching a great performance."

A.O. Scott (New York Times)

"Unlike [Transformers 4] … Dawn is more than a bunch of occasionally thrilling action sequences, emotional gut punches and throwaway jokes arranged in predictable sequence. It is technically impressive and viscerally exciting, for sure, but it also gives you a lot to think, and even to care, about."

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲

"Of all the motion picture variations on the Planet of the Apes theme we've in the last 40-plus years, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes just might be the most engrossing, the smartest and the most daring edition ever put on film."

Wesley Morris (Grantland)

"Reeves is another of those good young directors who, at the moment, is spinning in the revolving door of recycled and remade products. He can make the overhauls seem original enough. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets to be exciting and to say something about the world instead of merely blowing it up."

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

"With its give-peace-a-chance plea for interspecies amity and its condemnation of needless mistrust, not to mention preemptive strikes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes places itself squarely on the side of the angels, but in the process risks being more earnest than is good for it."

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)

"The movie has a very simple story … but the filmmakers milk it for every beat and nuance … partly out of a misguided sense of pace. Then again, when a movie is inconclusive, when it's heading nowhere, there's no telling what should be emphasized and what should be glossed over. Everything is of equal unimportance."

"No spoiler alert is needed here: Dawn ends with a closeup of Caesar pondering his lot, like Old Major from George Orwell's Animal Farm. This "Ape Forest" is no less plangent in musing on both the origin of the species and its potentially awful end. Also, when it gets going, it's a pretty fine movie."

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

"The key to 1968's Planet of the Apes was watching Charlton Heston interacting with his captors in a world that had gone topsy-turvy …. In Dawn, you just sit through the boring talking parts and wait for ape mayhem to break loose, which it does (complete with a climactic giant explosion, of course). But it's too little, too late."

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 79

Rotten Tomatoes: 91 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 130 Minutes

Starring Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell

Directed by Matt Reeves

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Movie
  • 130 minutes