"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" rises to critics' expectations

The "Dawn" has arrived.

A follow-up to 2011's smash "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Matt Reeves' "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is about to climb into theaters this weekend, with a whole new cast of simians and humans -- save for the return of Andy Serkis as the ape leader, Caesar. (Spoiler Alert: James Franco makes a brief cameo).

A now-middle aged Caesar finds himself a devoted father of two, husband to doting wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and the head of a community of roughly 2,000 evolved apes living peacefully together after mankind almost becomes extinct from a mysterious virus. The airborne illness is initially suspected as a disease originating from apes, but is later discovered to be man-made.

Gary Oldman plays a vengeful human leader, who wants to kill all the apes as he erroneously believes they caused the deadly outbreak. Keri Russell and Jason Clarke also star as more benevolent humans who try to become buddies with Caesar and his crew.

In addition to ruling the apes, Caesar, and the film itself, also seems to be popular among critics for the most part. Many of the reviews say "Dawn" is on par or superior to its predecessor:

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Mr. Reeves has a fine sense of visual detail and also of the eloquence of nonverbal exchanges between characters, digitally enhanced and otherwise. (Ms. Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee, as her adolescent son, do especially graceful work in limited roles.) The film is full of small, memorable moments and crowded with distinctive personalities on both sides of the ape-human divide."

Chris Nashawatay, Entertainment Weekly: "There's a good chance you never knew you needed to witness the sight of an angry ape charging on horseback, double-fisting a pair of machine guns. But trust me, you do."

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: "'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 and reason enough to see the film all by itself."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "'Dawn' is dynamite entertainment, especially in the rousing first hour."

Michael O' Sullivan, Washington Post: "'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' works both as allegory and action-adventure film. The internecine conflict between apes mirrors the troubled history of our own race."

Richard Corliss, TIME: "'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,' 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."

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "If you see the movie, notice how the ending is no ending, and the fact that it even feels like one is entirely a function of Michael Giacchino's musical score. He brings in the horns, then the strings; then the horns come in louder, and the illusion is created that we're experiencing some grand resolution. But back up for a second, and it seems more like the writers have really dug themselves a hole for next time."

Guy Lodge, Variety: "Reeves stages the ensuing crossfire in the human colony with much the same sense of kinetic panic he brought to the flipped monster-movie mechanics of 'Cloverfield,' albeit with far more technical dazzle this time."

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is now playing in theaters.

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    Ken Lombardi is an entertainment reporter for CBS News. He has interviewed over 300 celebrities, including Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks.