Humans and apes are on the brink of war in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," and movie critics are siding with the apes. According to the majority of reviews, "Dawn" is a refreshingly smart summer sequel — one in which the simians are the most compelling characters on screen.
The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan writes that "'Dawn's' vision of masses of intelligent apes swarming the screen as masters of all they survey is even more impressive than it was the last time around [in 2011's 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'] and reason enough to see the film all by itself." He adds that Andy Serkis is "in top form" as Caesar, the leader of the apes, turning "motion capture into an art form all by himself."
On the other hand, Turan says, "When it comes to telling the story of the ragtag bunch of humans who inevitably clash with the upwardly mobile apes, director Matt Reeves and screenwriters Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Mark Bombach have not quite matched the elan of the previous film."
Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly calls the latest "Apes" installment "surprisingly rollicking and resonant … a sequel that easily tops its 2011 predecessor." Reeves stages the battle scenes "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."
But like Turan, Nashawaty laments that more care seems to have been put into the ape characters (portrayed by human actors using motion capture and digital effects) than the human ones. "When it comes to who does the better acting," Nashawaty writes, "the apes carry the day, (hairy) hands down."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott declares "Dawn" to be "the best of this summer's large-scale, big-studio franchise movies." Even if that "isn't a very high bar to clear," as Scott says, the movie "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."
He adds, "In other words, it's a satisfying movie and an example — a dispiritingly rare one these days — of what mainstream Hollywood filmmaking can still achieve."
Stephanie Zacharek of the Village Voice says "Dawn" is "a much better and far less silly movie than its predecessor: It lives so confidently in its invented universe that you almost believe a society of apes could thrive on the outskirts of San Francisco." Although the film "doesn't cut particularly deep," Zacharek says that "at least 'Dawn' has the distinction of being a summer spectacle that respects its audience instead of just pummeling it into submission."
The Boston Globe's Ty Burr is most struck by Serkis' performance. He writes, "In bearing, speech, and agonized expressiveness, 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."
The rest of the film, Burr says, "comes frustratingly close to that level of popcorn greatness while ultimately falling short."
Although "Dawn" has garnered positive reviews on the whole, there are some dissenting voices, including Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. He does concede that "Dawn" is "a sort of pretty good choice as far as your summer entertainment dollar is concerned."
The problem, O'Hehir says, "is that Reeves and Serkis and a bunch of other entertainment professionals are stuck with an overly grandiose franchise that can't quite carry the weight that's been piled on it. … There were many moments where I admired this movie for its craftsmanship, but virtually none where I was swept away by its storytelling and couldn't wait to find out what would happen."
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