LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes swings into the US box office this weekend accompanied by rave reviews for a film pitting humans against their Simian cousins again, in spectacular fashion.
Starring Gary Oldman, the sequel to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes could also win big at the box office, in a summer relatively thin on blockbuster releases, experts say.
"Apes will certainly benefit from the weak slate over the next couple of weeks," Jeff Bock of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations told AFP ahead of the film's Friday release.
The movie starts off 10 years after the last one, with a monkey-borne virus having devastated the human population and crippled the Earth, embodied in an artfully ravaged San Francisco.
The apes have meanwhile developed into talking, reasoning human-like creatures who ride horses. Their leader is Caesar, who led them to freedom in the previous movie.
But the uneasy peace is disturbed when the humans try to reach a deal giving them access to a dam in the forests north of San Francisco, which they need for electricity.
The issue also divides the apes between compromise-seeking Caesar and a more aggressive aspiring leader, Koba.
The question raised by the film is "Should one species be more important than another?" said British actor Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, in a cast also including Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Toby Kebbell (Koba).
"Do we have the right on this planet to say 'one kind of person is better than another'?" Throughout the film, director Matt Reeves uses metaphors to highlight humans' and apes' similarities, stressing that fear, greed and egotism can also corrupt monkeys, who previously had organised themselves for the common good.
"Any kind of absolute belief system is fundamentally flawed because it doesn't take into account that people are different and we have to embrace that and celebrate it," said Serkis, describing his ape character.
The special effects in the film, the eighth made from a cult novel published in 1963, are based on so-called motion capture or performance capture technology, in which human movements are used to animate digital characters.
Avatar was until now the prime example, but it has also been used it in the 2011 Planet of the Apes film, as well as in The Adventures of Tintin the same year, and King Kong (2005).
"Performance capture isn't about doing gross movements and pantomiming," said Serkis. "The movie really means something and it's very tenderly played, the emotional content of this movie is huge," he said.
Exhibitor Relations expert Bock said the film is expected to cash in big on a generally slow box office year.
"The industry knew... that this summer was going to be a tough sell to audiences compared to last year," he said.
"There just weren't enough fanboy-friendly titles that cause wave after wave of hype and eventually swell to a tidal wave of buzz." Apes is likely to make roughly US$60 million (S$74.5 million) in its opening weekend, knocking blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction off the top spot, according to industry journal Variety.
While Apes should do well in the next few weeks, the really big summer movie could be Guardians of the Galaxy, due out on August 1 in the United States.
"That will truly reap the benefits as it might just play like Star Wars meets The Avengers, since it's really the last great hype left this summer," said Bock.