Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Director: Matt Reeves. Chernin Entertainment/Ingenious Media/TSG Entertainment (12a)

SCIENCE FICTION

4stars-Very good lots to enjoy 1

Cast & credits

Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver.
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver.
Camera: Michael Seresin.
Music: Michael Giacchino.
Sets: James Chinlund.

Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary.

Synopsis

Set 10 years after the events in Rise Of the Planet of the Apes (2011), in which genetically modified apes fought back against the tyranny of their human masters, a viral plague has all but obliterated the human population.

Two vastly different societies now live side by side: the apes, who are organising themselves into a structured, political group in the forests outside San Francisco and the remnants of the human population who exist in near poverty, still aggressively pursuing the consumption-heavy  life they once knew. A series of increasingly violent confrontations tests the uneasy peace between them.

Review

One would have thought that distributors 20th Century Fox had pummelled Pierre Boulle’s original satire La Planete des singe (1963) to death for movie angles since the original Charlton Heston blockbuster premiered in 1968. This second addition to the ‘prequel series’ reboot proves that 2011 was not a one-off with another slab of smart monkeying around.Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ppster full

There is an impressive Darwinism to all of these films themselves, and I’m not just talking about the inverse evolution of the ape and human characters.

The original ‘Heston’ series of films (although he only starred in the first film and briefly appeared in the second) showed those rarest of Hollywood movie ingredients, a clever story bristling with quasi-intellectual dialogue, theorising, and even philosophy, a thoroughly enjoyable movie hypothetico-deductivism.

The intelligence of the writing eventually ran away with itself, unravelled the celluloid in the camera magazine, spooled it around it’s own neck and nearly hung the production, but the recent reboots have cleverly picked up the central conceit of those films and neatly tidied them up in light of more recent scientific and social progress.

For instance, the insertion of genetic engineering to explain the ape’s sudden jump in intelligence and their physical structures (being able to talk like humans), a major plot-hole in the original film.

Like all classic scientific theories, the film’s ideas have been re-tested, added to, scrutinised and presented for peer review and publication, getting better and more ‘truthful’ as time progresses.

There are hints of other classic films – during the opening as the simians hunt deer and a bear, there is a faint wail of a human chorus in the background, aping the screeching voices in 2001: A Space Odyssey (also released in 1968) where the chimpanzees gathered around the black monolith that catalysed their evolutionary progression.

So, bringing us back to the film being reviewed, we follow Caeser and his compatriots as they grope toward civilisation, culture, religion, advancement and a sense of community, as our human peers denigrate into proto-capitalist, irrational, war-hungry paranoiacs holed up in a veritable open jail. There are individuals of varying shades of morality in both camps, but the apes win out on basic standards of decency.

There are some clever images that capture this journey of the apes, none more so than the final shot of the abandoned San Francisco street, looking like a decrepit Cathedral, where the assembled apes bow in unison toward their leader as the dawn of the title burns around them.

There are hard-working performances from a committed cast, with a CGI-hidden Serkis awesome despite (or because of) the technical trickery behind him as leader Ceaser, a passionate and emotional turn that shows the maturity of this process in aiding an actors work. Director Reeves keeps a tight reign on the action to deliver a film that not only grips an audience physically but can satisfy them cerebrally.

As I have mentioned, the writing is persuasively constructed, the ape politics are as cut and thrust as those in our present human world. The dangerous coalition between the two groups shows how fragile such arrangements are, topical for UK audiences (perhaps there are some lessons for the ConDems on how to work together more successfully!)

Other links to the previous films include the title font and one of the orang-utans is called Maurice, perhaps in homage to Maurice Evans, the Shakesperean actor who gained his greatest fame as pedantic Dr Zaius.

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