When Rise of the Planet of the Apes released in 2011, audiences and critics alike were as surprised by its emotional beats as they were the heartlfelt performance Andy Serkis managed to bring to his motion-captured, digitally-rendered ape, Caesar. The film wasn’t without its flaws – as we noted in our own review – but the film proved to be more than mindless, science fiction camp.

Its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, releases in two weeks and expectations are high for the film to not only raise the stakes for the apes and humans trying to coexist, creating more turmoil between the two groups, but to also provide bigger and more bombastic action set pieces as every trailer, teaser, and poster hints at the oncoming war.

Earlier this week Fox premiered the film to a group of critics and their reactions are already making their way online. A handful of those who caught the early screening have since tweeted their first impressions.

UPDATE: Here’s the biggest reaction to consider – the one from our own Editor-in-Chief, Kofi Outlaw!

Check them out below (via CBM):

(You can read more comments at each critics’ Twitter account.)

This is all high praise for a film some will still write off as that ‘silly monkey movie.’ It’s only the opinion of a select few, but it’s all positive, with many even calling Dawn of the Planet of the Apes their favorite film of the summer!

Fans of Rise will surely be pleased to hear the sequel builds upon and exceeds what made the first film so memorable. But it’s equally pleasing to hear such praise for director Matt Reeves, who’s taking over for Rises‘ director Rupert Wyatt. Then again, anyone who saw Reeves’ Let Me In –  a remake of the Swedish film Let the Right One In – knows the director can handle intense, emotional moments.

What’s perhaps the best news from these early reactions is how many are calling Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not simply a visual spectacle, but a real character-driven drama. Serkis’ performance in Rise was a real stand out, but his human co-stars were all rather flat and one-dimensional. Dawn appears to have done a better job with its performances from both humans and humans-as-apes, which is likely a big reason why the film and its messages are resonating more strongly.

If these early reactions hold true once the film is released, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could be the real surprise hit of the summer. With the universal praise of the film’s visuals, performances, direction – basically everything – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes could be a sequel that doesn’t just rival its predecessor, but surpasses it in every way.

Are you surprised to hear such universal acclaim for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Will Dawn become this summer’s smash hit blockbuster? Sound off in the comments below!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is out in theaters on July 11th, 2014.