Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite
There is a solid case to be made that the rebooted Planet of the Apes series is the best blockbuster franchise of the 21st century. Other franchises might enjoy higher profiles and bigger box office (Dark Knight trilogy, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Harry Potter series), but in terms of consistent high quality, with their combination of incredible technical achievement and effective storytelling, these Apes movies are hard to look past. After the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the third instalment, Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, fittingly rounds out this most under-appreciated of blockbuster trilogies.
Two years after the events of Dawn, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the ape community are living in hiding in the woods. While he has defeated Koba, the rebellious ape who threatened to tear their community apart, Caesar has been left fighting the war with the humans that Koba started. Continue reading
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito
Disney has always had a knack for squeezing every last dollar out of their intellectual property. Their most recent endeavour has been to recreate their classic animations as live action films for a new generation. We’ve had Maleficent (a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella and now The Jungle Book. But to call Jon Favreau’s film live action would seem a bit of a stretch when Mowgli himself is the only live element on screen.
Scripted by Justin Marks, this Jungle Book draws in equal parts from Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and the 1967 Disney animation which is, for so many people, the definitive version. Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley) narrates the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub raised by wolves in the jungles of India. While a much loved member of the pack, Mowgli develops slower than his brothers and sisters. Behaviours that are to them second nature need to be learned by him, and he is constantly being scolded for his tricks – using tools to solve problems rather than doing things the wolf way. Continue reading
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nick Thurston
The decision to reboot the Planet of the Apes franchise in 2011 raised a few eyebrows. It felt like a slightly dated concept, and the previous attempt, Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes remake, had been a terrible flop. But Rise of the Planet of the Apes proved to be one of the pleasant surprises of 2011, well received both critically and at the box office. But while a successful reboot is one thing, a successful sequel is an entirely different beast. However, expectations have been surpassed again, as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent, thrilling blockbuster which succeeds in taking this franchise to the next level.
Ten years after Caesar led his clan of genetically modified apes out of captivity and into the woods outside San Francisco the world looks very different. The ALZ113 virus which was being tested on the apes has become an epidemic, known as simian flu, and has wiped out most of the earth’s human population. Only those lucky enough to have a genetic immunity to the virus survive. A few hundred of these survivors have settled in San Francisco under the leadership of ex-military man Dreyfus and former architect Malcolm. With their fuel running low, their only hope is to get the hydro-electric system at O’Shaughnessy Dam up and running. Doing this means heading into the woods which the apes have made their home. While diplomacy between Malcolm and Caesar allows for initial cooperation, the hot-heads of Dreyfuss and Caesar’s second in command, Koba, mean that tension is never far from boiling over.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes succeeds in going beyond what Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave us. The ambitious film gives us an expansion of scale. Where the first film was mainly shot in interiors, this sequel is shot entirely on location and primarily outside. This gives the picture a grander scope and a more epic quality. It also marks the first time that motion capture technology has been extensively used on location rather than in the controlled environment of a studio, and the results are stunning.
While upping the scale, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes returns to the heart of what science fiction is supposed to be. Rather than the simplistic spectacle it so often becomes these days, when done well science fiction uses its fantastical narratives to offer social commentary or insight into the human condition. The screenplay by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, wears its political heart on its sleeve, exploring themes of empathy and fundamentalism, tolerance and prejudice.
In this war between humans and apes, we are not encouraged to take sides. This is a great strength of the movie. Instead it wants us to see the similarities between the two species. There are good humans and good apes, and there are bad humans and bad apes. Neither species can claim moral superiority. As tensions rise we see that peace requires us to see those things which we have in common, while conflict comes from an inability to see past those things that make us different.
Visually, this film is very impressive. The visual effects, supervised by Joe Letteri and Dan Lemmon, are tremendous in both the large scale action sequences, and the minute detail of the motion capture which brings the apes to life. But motion capture, or performance capture, is not just a technical achievement. The film’s strongest characters are simian, not human. The ape characters are both well-conceived and well written. The majority of the communication between them is in the form of a simple sign language, yet the actors use this primitive communication to effectively display complex emotions. Similarly, the film’s strongest performances come from the motion capture actors. Andy Serkis, with his iconic work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, has established himself as the world’s premier motion capture actor. But his performance as Caesar is something to behold. Serkis gives the weary leader of the apes a real gravitas. Caesar shows arguably the most complex, subtle emotional depth the cinema has ever seen in a non-human character. While I’m not sure that the Hollywood establishment is yet ready to recognise a motion capture performance with an award nomination, Serkis would not be out of place in that discussion.
In an era where the science fiction genre is often merely an excuse for special effects and spectacle, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes aspires for something more. Refreshingly intelligent for a big budget sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is easily the best blockbuster of the year so far.
Review by Duncan McLean
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