5 August 2014

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes 3

Planet of the Apes, the classic 1968 movie, spawned four sequels, a TV series, a cartoon and a remake. When it was announced there would be yet another remake (after that best forgotten 2001 Tim Burton misstep) there was much eye-rolling and arm folding about the lack of originality in Hollywood.

Then the unthinkable happened; Rise of the Planet of the Apes was actually really good.

It was almost 10 months later before the inevitable sequel was announced. A few months after that, Rise director Rupert Wyatt dropped out and was replaced by Matt Reeves. Wyatt felt, that with the time he had been given, he was unable to deliver a second movie that could reach the high bar set by the first. Once more, the eyes began to roll and arms were folded.

Was director Matt Reeves helming a quick cash-in sequel or could the unthinkable happen once more?

The two movies of this new Planet of the Apes franchise are very much like the apes they depict. Where the apes of Rise got smart, the apes of Dawn show their emotions. Dawn doesn’t try to imitate its predecessor, it is a much different prospect.

Dawn opens with a quick recap of the last movie delivered via news footage. A still in development retrovirus, engineered as a cure for Alzheimer’s and tested on apes, had the unforeseen effect of making the test subjects much more intelligent whilst simultaneously being deadly to most humans. Over the following 10 or so years the human population has been decimated by this virus, dubbed simian flu, whilst a community of intelligent apes has thrived in the forests north of San Francisco.

On the surface of it, the plot hinges on a hydro-electric dam. The humans need it to power their settlement in San Francisco but it lies on land controlled by the apes. In reality this is a story about trust. The humans don’t trust the apes, whom they blame for spreading simian flu, and the apes don’t trust the humans since many of them were treated so badly by us in places like laboratories and zoos.

An uneasy truce is struck between Andy Serkis’s ape leader Caesar, and the human representative Malcolm, played by Zero Dark Thirty’s Jason Clarke. Factions within both sides, human and ape, still distrust the other and it is this distrust which threatens the fragile peace, putting both sides in jeopardy.

One of the things Rise did so well was that it did so many things so well. There was so much going on all at once and there was a lot of world building done in the first movie. It seemed like there was far less going on this time around but with the exposition already done and the rules laid out, Dawn is able to deliver a much more emotional experience than its predecessor. I was intrigued to see the story in Rise play out. With Dawn I really felt things, for both sides.

This isn’t simply a dumbing down of the premise. It’s not so black and white as “humans are good, apes are bad.” There are heroes and villains on both sides but even that description doesn’t do the movie justice.

The best villains are really the heroes of another story. Ape Koba, played by War Horse’s Toby Kebbell, might be the movie’s villain but he had suffered so much abuse at human hands, who could blame him for not trusting us? For wanting to save his people from mankind? Likewise human leader Dreyfus, played by Gary Oldman, makes plans for peace but prepares for war. The humans have lost their homes, their society and even families. After falling so far and losing so much you don’t begrudge them for wanting to take steps to avoid losing what little they have left.

Both societies are equally sympathetic and will be equally culpable in the conflict to come. A conflict which could have so easily been avoided. Which is where the tragedy lies.

Make no mistake, this is a tragedy, although looking at the track listing for Michael Giacchino’s score you wouldn’t think so. Every track name is an ape pun. Close encounters of the furred kind and Past their primates being a couple of my favourites. The music itself though is far from being a joke. There are a few themes that reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith’s tribal, discordant score for the original Planet of the Apes, but there were moments when the music rose up to elevate the action and emotion beyond anything the images could show.

And what images!

The sight of a scarred chimpanzee brandishing an assault rifle, whilst leaping through a wall of flame on horseback, sent a shiver up my spine. Although it’s also possible that was just the sub-woofer.

There were times I had to remind myself I was looking at CGI. The effects are that good. A movie like this wouldn’t work at all if they weren’t. I forgot I was looking at special effects, hell I even forgot I was looking at apes at times. It was only when there were dozens of them onscreen at once I remembered that those weren’t extras, somebody had taken the time to put them there.

With so much CGI on-screen it’s very easy to forget that those are very human actors underneath all that “digital make up”. Especially because at no point did the performances ever remind me that those there were actually humans I was looking at. Nobody actually expected Andy Serkis to get an Oscar for playing Gollum. He probably won’t get one for playing Caesar either. He is so good though it makes you wonder why he doesn’t get more roles where he actually would stand a shot of winning. He certainly seems capable. Reeves said JJ Abrams saw Serkis’s performance, before the CG was even added on top, and was blown away. Anyone who has seen the pre-effects footage of any of his mo-cap roles knows just how much he gives as an actor, even though he knows he likely won’t be given the credit for it; that people will decide that’s not acting, it’s animation. It’s certainly the best performance of his career so far and the best I’ve seen all year.

I watched Dawn in 3D. Should you? Some people feel they only want to fork out that extra money for event movies. Where there are superheroes or spaceships flying around on alien worlds. Personally I find 3D to be a much more immersive experience, whatever story is being told. I don’t need exploding debris flying out of the screen at me to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. You’ve probably already made up your mind about 3D one way or another but it’s here to stay.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great film. It may not have all the sizzle of your average summer blockbuster, but it makes up for that with a maturity and thoughtfulness that those other movies are too busy trying to dazzle you with quick editing and explosions to even attempt. I guarantee you will see this movie in at least the top three of every film-critic’s best movies at the end of the year. See it now so you can put it in yours.

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You can find Philip on Twitter at @crookedfiction

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Tickets for Rise of the Planet of the Apes are now available from the Box Office, by phone on 08719025737 and online