I was not a big fan of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011); despite some (then) cutting-edge CGI and a great cast, the story had too many plot holes and lapses in logic, mostly for the sake of making a cool-looking movie, to overlook. But unlike other movies guilty of these sins (You haven’t heard of any plans for The Green Hornet II, have you?) Rise fostered a sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, although it’s splitting hairs to decide the difference between the “dawn” of something or the “rise” of something. Actually, the titles should have been reversed.

But naming conventions aside, Dawn is here. It’s been ten years since the misnamed “Simian flu” has decimated a large (I mean r-e-a-l-l-y large) portion of the human population. In that time the apes living in wilderness outside San Francisco have flourished, establishing a thriving colony, led by Caesar, the offspring of the first genetically-enhanced ape. Then the humans arrive, looking for a hydroelectric dam that can power their colony, across the bay. Caesar tells them, this island is your land, this land is my land, don’t come back. But of course, the humans do.

Caesar is willing to work with them, he believes if they get what they want, they’ll have no reason to come back. His lieutenant, Koba, bears the physical and psychological scars of being a lab animal. He does not trust the humans at all. And many of the humans see a preemptive strike on the apes as “good lookin’ out.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes can be read a lot of different ways on a lot of levels: it’s a critique of the developed nations exploiting less developed nations, there is the Shakespearean angle, with the noble, regal Caesar and Koba, Iago/Brutus in his shadow. There is even an with the battle for Blue Eyes, Caesar’s rebellious, hot-headed adolescent son, making a choice between the light, his father’s way, or being seduced by the dark side.

If you thought the CGI in Rise was impressive, it is even better here. The script avoids most of the problems of its predecessor and even the moments you “see coming” are reassuring rather than boring. And in parts its quite clever, like when it names the orangutan who befriended Caesar in the first movie “Maurice,” a nod to Maurice Evans, who played the orangutan Dr. Zaius in the original 1967 film.

It’s gonna be hard to decide which of the year’s genre films was “the best.” This one will certainly be on the final ballot.

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