Wednesday 11 December 2019

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12A) - 'ideas and serious themes in a film that entertains in a truly spectacular fashion'

Andy Serkis as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Andy Serkis as Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

George Byrne

Fantasy. Starring Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Toby Kebbell, Karin Konofal. Directed by Matt Reeves.


2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes worked magnificently on two significant levels.  Firstly, it proved that a summer blockbuster could be smartly written and not insult its audience's intelligence - yes, Michael Bay, we're looking at you - and also erased the memory of Tim Burton's 'reimagining' abomination of a decade earlier. 

In presenting a supersmart origins story which linked directly to the classic 1968 movie it managed to keep diehard fans of the original well onside, too, while no doubt sending a whole new audience back to that source.

However, given the huge success of Rise there could have been a danger that a sequel could have squandered all that goodwill but, I'm glad to say, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a triumph on its own terms. 

Set ten years after the events of the first film, in which the testing of a drug to combat Alzheimer's led to the development of a super-intelligent ape, Caesar (masterfully performed by Andy Serkis in a minor miracle of motion-capture), and the spread of a 'simian flu' virus which meant that only one out of every five hundred humans on the planet survived, we see the ape colony happily going about their monkey business in the forested hills above the ruins of San Francisco.

A deer hunt provides a spectacular set piece before this woodland idyll is shattered with the arrival of a group of humans which results in the wounding of a young chimp.  Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leader of the group, is keen to avert a conflict and eventually explains to Caesar that their mission is to restart a power plant to supply electricity to the surviving inhabitants of the city.

While Caesar and Malcolm cautiously engage with the notion of the two species co-existing peacefully, more hawkish elements in the two camps, Caesar's lieutenant Yuba (Togy Kebbel) and the equally martially-minded Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), reckon that complete domination by one over the other is the only eventual outcome.

Thus, the stage is set for an almost Shakespearean tale of loyalties betrayed, revenge and political scheming, all set amid some great action sequences.

Serkis's Caesar is a remarkable creation, a reminder that movies are still capable of creating magic as after about ten minutes in you completely forget that what you're watching is a CGI confection, such is the depth of character and emotion brought to the screen.

So, while the latest Transformers film blusters about the cineplexes like some runaway circus train, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows it is possible to have actual ideas and serious themes in a film which also manages to entertain in a truly spectacular fashion.  Roll on the next one.



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