Film review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(M) ****

Director: Matt Reeves.

Cast:  Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer.

ONE of the biggest cinematic surprises in recent years was Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - another unwanted reboot/reimagining/prequel that turned out to be one of the best films of 2011.

So here's the sequel to that movie no one wanted and - surprise, surprise - it's also really good.

While not as tautly scripted as its predecessor, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (known as DOTPOTA from here on in) is another great balance of emotional punch, great characters (all apes), and action thrills.

Eight years after chief chimp Caesar (Serkis) led his fellow chemically enhanced apes to freedom across the Golden Gate Bridge, the world is a very different place. A virus has wiped out much of humanity, with the survivors eking out an existence in small communities, such as one in San Francisco.

At the other end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Caesar's colony is thriving, unaware any humans remain alive. 

However a run-in between Caesar's forces and a small group of human survivors led by Malcolm (Clarke) sets in motion a chain of events that will lead the two species to either mutually beneficial peace or bloody war.

DOTPOTA pulls a few of the same tricks as its predecessor (which we will call ROTPOTA), but it's a very different film. Its misty forest and dark broken city settings give a suitably ape-ocalyptic (sorry) vibe to proceedings that's a stark contrast to the warm homely tones and bright clinical labs of the first film.

This is also very much the apes' film. Whereas Caesar (a combination of Serkis' motion-captured performance and some CG wizardry) and his simian sidekicks stole the show last time, this time they own the show.

The interplay and relationships between Caesar, the tortured human-hating bonobo Koba (Kebbell), the wise Bornean orangutan Maurice (Konoval), and Caesar's son Blue Eyes (Thurston) are far more fascinating than those of the humans. While Clarke gets a lot to do as a sort-of go-between for the humans and the apes, Oldman does little but give vaguely rousing speeches and mourn for the past and Russell is a plot device disguised as a doctor.

This doesn't matter though because the apes are the reason to watch. They are wonderfully realised characters built from nuanced performances (particularly from Serkis and Kebbell) and some near flawless special effects.

The moral questions raised, the themes of trust and power, and the emotional moments are no less effective for being provided by a cast of CG primates.

As with ROTPOTA, DOTPOTA (yep, it's ridiculous but stick with me here) takes us to a destination we're expecting - a planet of, well, apes - but does so in an unexpected manner. It's this that helped make the first one so enjoyable and intriguing and the feat is impressive once again here.

While the humans are the weakest link, the apes more than make up for it, creating a sequel that's well worth watching.

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