When you tell people you’re off to review a Planet of the Apes reboot sequel, you’re usually met with an expression of incredulity, in the first instance, then disdain, then disinterest as you’re dismissed from the conversation.

And then you talk to fellow film buffs, those who’ve bothered to give the original reboot a chance, and you are readmitted entrance to the realms of intelligent life again – people are engaged, interested, enthusiastic. And that’s testament to just how good a reimagining the first film is.

The original it is based on is a masterpiece but there followed the increasingly risible sequels and then the rather unfortunately simplistic (but still quite enjoyable) Helena Bonham-Carter rehash years later.

So the bar was set extremely low. No-one imagined how brilliant and touching a film with CGI simians as leading men could be (Hollywood still can’t imagine a world where any females have prominent speaking parts and much prefer to train (male) monkeys to converse).

I jest. To say I’m a huge fan of the original concept and film is an understatement. To many it may be just a story of loquacious apes but to me it is an epic of Biblical proportions, a multi-layered morality tale with classic themes that echo through the ages. And the ending can’t be beaten for sheer impact.

The CGI reboot had a way to go to even come close. Yet it still managed to strike at the beating heart of audiences, capturing the emotion of the original, and gave us the most enigmatic pairing in Franco and Andy Serkis since Bogart and Bacall. Serkis gave an Oscar-worthy performance that would never be recognised at so political and snobbish a ceremony, outclassing every actor going. Plus the emotion conveyed in Caesar’s expressions, particularly his soulful eyes, would be enough to have even the hard-hearted likes of David Cameron brought to his knees (though probably not).

So for me, the real test was going to be the second film in the series, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The plot engaged me immediately and seemed plausible: a drug to cure dementia has gone rogue, leading to Simian Flu and eradicating most of human life. (The same week I watched it, the news had stories about a supposed new wonder drug for curing Alzheimer’s, as well as fears about how a super strain of a deadly virus had been created in a lab.)

Caesar’s band of genetically-superior simians have escaped to an enclave in the woods of San Francisco, mirroring a similar band of human survivors in the grim remnants of the once-magnificent city.

Unfortunately for the Mensa-minded chimps (plus gorilla and a soulfully sweet orang-utan), their home has been built on an old dam that the humans need to power the city and make it habitable again.

From then on in, the worlds collide, ironically as an anti-NRA ad (given original and best lead actor Charlton Heston’s gun-happy proclivities – he’ll be spinning  in his grave) crossed with a parable for the fall of Rome.

Visually exciting from the first unforgettable scene of chimps charging through the forest on horseback, through to the emotional finale, director Matt Reeves’s sequel delivers in its own right, without any legacy to recommend it.

However, Serkis’s Caesar is again the star of the show, and being Franco-less means the film suffers somewhat. Yes, lead actor Jason Clarke plays his part touchingly (though he kept reminding me of Jason Segel in the Muppets, which detracted my attention somewhat), while Gary Oldman was suitably evil as the baddie  (mirroring real life, if you believe the red-tops).

Keri Russell is dewy-eyed as the lone stereotypical female human and manages to emote convincingly with her expressions while being giving little to say or do (as her sole female counterpart, Cornelia, also manages with even less lines). To be honest, it’s amazing how there could be any dawn of any planet of the apes with such limited breeding stock.

That is not to take away from the impact the film has, though. Though in need of as much foliage trimming as the forest they inhabit, it may not pack as powerful a sucker punch to the heart as the first, and could never live up to the Heston original, but it still gives great entertainment when compared with most of the Hollywood schlock out there.

And I confess, like the first, although the film tried to portray man and animal as similar beasts, the power and sophistication of the film still makes this animal lover, at least, feel more akin and attuned to a bunch of CGI Alpha animated apes than to any humans, male or otherwise.


VERDICT: [rating=4]

About The Author

Rhian is a freelance journalist and editor living in London. A film fan for as long as she can remember, her tastes cover the entire spectrum of cinema.