Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A rare improvement on the original

It’s a rarity for a sequel to improve on the original, especially when the first flick was pretty good in itself.

This exciting, thought-provoking movie deftly picks up where Rise of the Planet of the Apes left off, with a small band of apocalypse-surviving humans in San Francisco facing off with top chimp Caesar’s group of perspicacious primates, which has set up an impressively civilized camp in Muir Woods.

But the almost Shakespearean conflict is not so much between man and ape as it is between warmongers and moderates in both camps. Of course it’s allegorical, but the touch is so light that you’ll be caught up in the suspense and action before you ever realize it’s delivering a message. No mean feat.

Not enough good things can be said about Andy “Gollum” Serkis as Caesar. Also Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell. The film does not preach; the awesome CG support the storytelling; it’s intelligent and viscerally thrilling. And James Franco’s not in it.

Best Apes movie so far. It also pulls off the even more rare feat of making me anxious for the next installment.

Japanese title: Saru no Wakusei: Rising. (130 min)