'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes': What the Critics Are Saying

Matt Reeves' dark, San Francisco-set sequel stars Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Enrique Murciano and Kirk Acevedo.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, out on Friday, has been widely touted as this summer's redeeming film—a shining beacon of hope in the wake of feeble box office numbers, over the Fourth of July weekend in particular.

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The movie, directed by Matt Reeves, is a dark sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, picking up years after the outbreak of a simian virus that has left the majority of Earth's human population dead and subsequently allowed hundreds of genetically evolved apes and primates to thrive and develop a flourishing society.

Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the apes live in relative peace until they encounter a band of surviving humans, subsequently tossing their simian utopia into turmoil as they fiercely and sometimes violently debate whether apes and humans can coexist. The cast also includes Toby Kebbell, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Enrique Murciano and Kirk Acevedo, and is expected to accrue $60 million in its opening.

Read what top critics are saying about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Todd McCarthy says in his review that Dawn delivers "a gripping account of interspecies conflict" and "manages to do at least three things exceptionally well that are hard enough to pull off individually: maintain a simmering level of tension without letup for two hours, seriously improve on a very good first entry in a franchise and produce a powerful humanistic statement using a significantly simian cast of characters. 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."

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The New York Times' A.O. Scott adds that the political themes at play in the film are what make it great: "The arguments—in essence, about whether the boundaries of solidarity should stay within the tribe or extend beyond it—give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a nice allegorical heft. The old movies, which blew the minds and troubled the sleep of many children in the '60s and '70s (including young Bobby Draper in Season 6 of Mad Men), arrived at a time of racial conflict, ecological anxiety and a general sense of social breakdown. Since then, cinematic technology has evolved from rubber masks to digital sculpture, and our fears and aspirations have mutated, too, making Planet of the Apes a less abstract, more hauntingly immediate story."

Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips gives Dawn three stars, and touts the film as a "solid success." Of its "inescapable political element," he adds, "I write this as a Chicagoan whose city has become an international symbol of gun violence bordering on insanity. In Dawn, Caesar's ape colony has no use for firearms; only when Koba (Kebbell), the vicious, ambitious rival ape, gets hold of humankind's weapons does the utopian community turn against itself. The movie's pretty grim. Then again, the whole Planet of the Apes mythology depends on a vision of the future that speaks very, very poorly of humankind's ability to trust and adapt and play well with others."

Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan calls the movie a "visual feast," with actors who "truly make us believe we are watching intelligent apes in action, and that is not something you see every day." However, he writes, "If you want apes, you've come to the right place. If people are your passion, not so much. ... 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."

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Time's Richard Corliss says that the film, "while not nearly the masterpiece proclaimed by many critics, is certainly a fascinating cross-species: a big-budget summer action fantasy with a sylvan, indie-film vibe, and a war movie that dares ask its audience to root for the peacemakers. ... This one meanders through the woods for much of its two-hour-plus running time. Only at the climax does it escalate into martial majesty."