Friday, 19 September, 2014

Published July 11, 2014
Nothing to go ape about
It's just another instalment in the long-running film franchise damning humanity, writes GEOFFREY EU
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Higher EQ: Some of the primates in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes come across as more human than several of their human counterparts

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APES love to monkey around in general, but studies have also shown them to be adept at forming political groups and exhibiting other human-like tendencies. So it isn't that much of a stretch for them to turn into a more evolved species capable of belligerent behaviour involving the use of automatic weapons and terminating humans with extreme prejudice. Not when it's a science fiction movie anyway.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the latest in a long-running feature film series - a sequel to the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the eighth instalment since the original Planet of the Apes (1968) - to delve into a narrative about the interaction between the human race and a troop (literally) of mighty expressive simians.

An action-drama in which an ape gets top billing (not to mention most of the best lines) would have been unthinkable in 1968 but times - and movie technology - have changed. The simian characters in this movie (directed by Matt Reeves and written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) are more human than several of their human counterparts: a damning indictment of the human race perhaps, but also an indication of just how far digital technology and performance-capture techniques have come.

Dawn takes up the story a decade or so after where Rise left off. In that time, the Simian virus created by a biotech company as a test treatment has spread around the globe and decimated the world's human population. Meanwhile, in the woods north of San Francisco, a large colony of apes led by alpha male Caesar (Andy Serkis) lives peacefully, far from any human contact.

One day, they encounter a small party of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who intend to start up the generators at a nearby hydroelectric station and supply power to the city, where survivors of the apocalypse are sheltering. A tense encounter between Carver (Kirk Acevedo), an unenlightened member of Malcolm's group and Koba (Toby Kebbell) - Caesar's right-hand ape (and former lab test subject) who bears a strong hatred towards all humans - sets the tone and leads to mutual suspicion between humans and apes.

Koba is itching for a fight while Caesar (as the thinking man's ape) represents the voice of reason. Down in the city, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the highest-ranking human, orders his men to prepare a weapons stockpile in anticipation of an all-out attack by the apes.

There is a measure of trust between Malcolm and Caesar but there is also discontent among the lower ranks. It turns out that Koba - one thoroughly bad ape - has ambitions beyond being second banana to Caesar (Et tu, Koba?) "I see now how much like them we are," says Caesar - but by then it's far too late.

There's no telling how many Planet of the Apes movies will be made before the powers that be decide to call time on the franchise. A follow-up to Dawn is already in the works. Allowing for further improvements in technology, expect to get even further into the mind and under the skin of Caesar and his descendants. As for humanity itself, there's much less room for optimism.

Rating: C+