Rise of the Planet of the Apes became a surprise hit in 2011 and was declared the best prequel ever. I loved Rise, but I hate that the word prequel is attached to that film. Sure, there are easter eggs which hint a connection to the classic Planet of the Apes franchise, but let’s be honest, those minor links are really nothing more than a homage to the original series. This new Apes franchise is its own story which continues with the highly anticipated sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes picks up 10 years after the outbreak of the virus that was let loose on humanity at the end of Rise. Dawn chooses the ever popular time jump route to skip over the inevitable outbreak and catch up with Caesar and his community of apes who were immune to the virus that has wiped out much of humanity on Earth.

The time jump eliminates all the exposition and we get to see the apes flourishing and speaking right off the bat. No waiting around for simian speech or big action scenes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes never lets up and keeps the audience engaged throughout the 2 hour and 10 minute running time. If anything, I wanted more of Caesar and his apes.

Speaking of Caesar and his family of apes; they are the shining stars of the movie again. Andy Serkis’s name will again be thrown around in awards season discussion, but you know darn well that the stuffy old Academy voters will never give Serkis his due for playing the stoic leader who tries to keep the peace among his community. I know in the end Caesar is just a special FX, but Serkis brings so much life to the role it’s hard to think of the performance as just a computer graphic.

Oscar voters may have even more of a dilemma with Toby Kebbell’s performance as Koba. Caesar’s right hand ape steals the show as the human hating ape, who is actually very similar to the people that once tortured him. He’s a ruthless character with deep scars, both physically and mentally. Jason Clarke is a big improvement over James Franco in the human role as the understanding Malcolm, but the truth is, we’re buying our tickets to see the apes on-screen. We’re not sitting in those theater seats to see the humans, even if the cast includes the always stellar Gary Oldman.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is nothing like it’s predecessor, with its apocalypse setting, and that’s what makes it a special rarity. It is a sequel that is better than the original. Director Matt Reeves doesn’t give us the same story again and chooses to give us a whole new planet in which the apes are now occupying. It makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a fresh story even though it is a sequel. Reeves proves you can have a film with a compelling story that is still a spectacle for summer movie goers. Somebody should sit Michael Bay down and explain this to him.

Overall, I give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 3.5 out of 4 stars.

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