Title: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Major Players: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman
Out Of Five: Four
Monkey puns alert! I’m not going to use any here, so breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve been used so often for the other Planet Of The Apes films that, frankly, they’ve had their day. And Matt Reeves’ Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes deserves a more serious approach.
It’s ten years since the events of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and simian flu has devastated the world, with only scattered pockets of human survivors left. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of genetically evolved apes have formed a sophisticated society but haven’t seen any humans for years. An encounter with members of a group from what’s left of San Francisco changes all that, and threatens everything for the apes. The humans are looking for new sources of power and there’s a derelict dam in the apes’ territory. Caesar allows them to try to get it working again, but a rift between him and the hot-headed Koba (Toby Kebbell) soon brings apes and humans to the brink of war ……
Another week, another sequel – and another impressive one. So much for them not living up to the original. The first Planet Of The Apes was made back in 1968 and all its successors have fallen short – until now. In Matt Reeves’ hands, we have an exciting, intelligent – thought-provoking, even – action adventure with eye-popping performance capture in the shape of the apes themselves.
They are extraordinarily convincing, and there’s never a moment when you do anything less than believe they’re for real. The sparkle in their eyes makes them look truly alive, making them stand out from any of their predecessors. Even more remarkable is Caesar’s expressive face and the way he infuses every word of his limited vocabulary with meaning and significance. It’s a performance that will inevitably resurrect the argument about performance capture acting that started when he played Gollum. Will anybody risk giving him a nomination this time round?
The apes are so fascinating that the humans are rather left in the shade, giving us the opportunity to understand the apes and sympathise with them – an interesting dilemma for a human audience. Jason Clarke is a good enough human hero but Gary Oldman doesn’t really have that much to do as their leader. The apes get all the best lines as well – both verbally and in the sub-titles – which is probably just as well, as the human dialogue definitely has its clunky moments.
There was one thing that I just couldn’t get out of my mind throughout the film. It might have apes and a post-apocalyptic setting but, essentially, it’s a western. That’s no bad thing as far as I’m concerned: I was weaned on them. More specifically, there’s some really striking parallels with Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves. Try this. The apes haven’t seen any humans for years, then they suddenly meet some, who they regard with suspicion. The apes’ council sits around the fire discussing whether or not to give the humans access to something on their territory – and they’re subtitled as they’re speaking in their own language. Human medicine helps save Caesar’s wife survive a life-threatening illness. Now substitute “Sioux” for “apes” and “white people” for humans. See what I mean?
Like I said, it’s no bad thing, but it does mean that the film is even less of the sci-fi adventure that it’s supposed to be. We know from the defunct technology that it’s set in the future but, apart from that, there’s very little that’s futuristic or scientific about it at all.
It is, however, an atmospheric, engrossing and technically impressive adventure and a sequel that more than stands up on its own. Fans of the franchise will welcome it with open arms, as will the more thoughtful cinema goer and those looking for an action-packed ride. Which is quite an achievement.
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes goes on general release on Thursday, 17 July.