Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12a)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis
Running time: 130 min
In the wake of a disaster that changed the world, the growing and genetically evolving apes find themselves at a critical point with the human race.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a bolt out of the blue. No-one really saw it coming and when it did it was surprisingly good… not that anyone was shocked that an Apes movie can be good, just that no-one knew what had happened.
Truth be told, it wasn’t bad… but it was no classic. What it was was a great set up – although it was mighty rushed in the last act – for sequels. And thankfully Matt Reeves has managed to put out a sequel that’s not just better than the first movie, but is a damned sight better than most – if not all – that has gone before.
The set-up follows on naturally from the first movie. The Simian Flu is now ten years in and the apes, who communicate mostly though a form of sign language and the odd word, are actually pondering if there are any humans left as they haven’t seen them in two winters.
Caesar (Serkis) has a family now, a right-hand man, Koba (Toby Kobell), and everything is running well. The Apes are schooling the young on how to be civilised… ape shall not kill ape is a scared mantra. The world is a quiet and peaceful place again… until the arrival of Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Ellie (Russell) and their rag-tag team of survivors, sent by Oldman’s Dreyfus character to try to find a Hydro Power Plant in the forest where the apes live in order to get power back to the people before lives are lost and so they can attempt to find other survivors. The humans don’t know the apes are there and the apes don’t know the humans are there. Things do not start well, as you can imagine, but pretty soon…
Well, that would be telling.
Whatever you think this movie is going to be, let me assure you, it’s not.
I’m not a big fan of the Apes movies or mythology. I grew up watching the original movies and TV series with my dad, so I have a nostalgic fondness for them. The first of this rebooted universe was a movie I put down as good, but nothing awfully special.
So I went to this with rave reviews fresh in my brain and a very open mind as to what I was about to see. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Reeves and the cast and crew have managed to take Planet of the Apes to a whole new level. The apes are fantastic firstly. Serkis and his team have knocked it clean out of the park. They are 100 per cent real… no expense has been spared on the performances, effects or attention to detail in the culture they have created. There’s an order and hierarchy here with each ape filling a role for the greater good. They are sympathetic and strangely… human. As Tyrell said in Blade Runner, “More human than human”.
The humans too are superb. Clarke – best known so far for his work on The Great Gatsby and Brotherhood – is a likeable character, a man on the edge, trying to protect the ones he has left and to rebuild society. He’s a simple man just trying to hold the world together and he proves here that he’s an actor to keep and eye on in the future and he’s effortlessly more likeable than James Franco last time out.
Reeves’ biggest challenge here, however, was creating a world and two societies in that world that are co-existing under severe strain, each not trusting the other and sitting on the cusp of war… and oh my, but he does it.
Both sides have villains and both sides have ‘people’ we can root for. Serkis’ Caesar is a noble character who, unlike many of the other apes, has seen that mankind can be kind and just… and it puts him at odds with his own kind at various points, but when the challenges come, they aren’t preachy, they feel natural and true… the message in the end is somewhat lost because, frankly, it seems that some things are meant to be, no matter how much you struggle against it.
The effects are superb, very rarely showing their CGI truth, the performances – especially from Serkis and co – are first class, making what could seem ridiculous, feel noble and believable. The action scenes are great too, with the blend of real world and effects blended masterfully, you will believe and ape can ride a horse and fire two guns at once.
But, at the core of this movie is a human struggle. Two men who love their families and people, struggling to keep a peace that, no spoiler alert necessary here, is doomed to fail.
Arguably the most intelligent and challenging blockbuster of the last few years and a real contender for the movie of the summer, this is one that, certainly for this reviewer, has made the Planet of the Apes a place that I look forward to getting back to again.
You damned dirty apes!
4 out of 5 Nerds