Monday, 28 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

World War Chimpan-Z

2014 is proving to be the year of the great science-fiction revival. After the success of Edge of Tomorrow, the two biggest and most exciting summer blockbusters are both proudly of the nerdy genre. Munching on the box office before Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy hits the screens is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and prequel to the original Charlton Heston classic.

In the wake of a global pandemic and apocalyptic war, a fledgling colony of human survivors based in San Francisco begins negotiations with a neighbouring society of intelligent apes, led by the inspirational patriarch Caesar (Andy Serkis). Neither side wants war, but will their mutual mistrust escalate into an armed crisis?

All of the good things you have heard are true. Dawn feels so organic there were times when I forgot it was largely manufactured on a computer screen. From the first scene, where an ape hunting party ambushes a group of deer, the habitats and motion-captured simian characters are convincingly realised in painstaking digital and CGI. Sometimes the highly developed primates generate more empathy, charisma and emotional sincerity than their human co-stars. Typically difficult effects to cultivate like rain, fur and ambivalent facial expressions all come together in unblemished harmony to make for the best visual effects I have ever seen.

It is a triumph that when Caesar faces off with Malcolm, the human protagonist, the audience is left with split sympathy. At no point is it a case of four-foot good, two-foot bad; more like humans and apes just as good/bad as each other.

With a script that favours almost every character and has a plot which makes sense beyond adding up the dots, this is also an unusually smart piece of popcorn fare. The action sequences are enough to raise the film’s pulse and remove the slight threat of impending boredom. But having a cast of interesting faces like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke and Keri Russell, there is nothing ordinary about the people on screen.

By the third act the pace begins to wane and more could have been made of exploring the dynamics within the humans’ panicky fortress. Even so, Dawn is undemanding entertainment, delivering another major sci-fi commercial success, and making a sure claim to being the best ape film since 1968.

Based on its rather large profits, 20th Century Fox are bound to add more films to the franchise in future years.


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