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Total Film | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

What a difference a decade makes. In 2001, Fox execs were still scratching their heads over where to take their ailing, 35-year-old Planet Of The Apes franchise after the critical drubbing dished out to Tim Burton’s big-budget B-movie reboot. It took them a while – 10 years in fact – to reach a solution: Rupert Wyatt’s game-changing prequel, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Doing away with the traditional actors-in-suits approach, Wyatt employed Oscar-winning Kiwi geniuses WETA Digital to create photorealistic, performance-captured simians and gave us a film that melded cutting-edge FX spectacle with a surprisingly affecting cautionary tale of corporate greed, animal cruelty and science getting ahead of itself… Critics and audiences agreed: the franchise had its edge back.

Yep, a lot can change in 10 years. It’s a concept that Cloverfield director Matt Reeves’ mines for his Rise follow-up, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. A chilling yet beautifully rendered 3D redux of the previous film’s end credits sequence sets the scene, with news snippets revealing that the world’s population has been decimated by the ‘simian flu’ virus – a potent by-product of the first film’s lab testing.

A decade later, chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band of intelligent apes have founded a fledgling civilisation in the woods of San Francisco, presuming all humans to be dead. His peaceful existence is threatened, though, by the intrusion of Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a man searching for energy supplies to power a settlement of genetically immune survivors within the city ruins. The two form a frail, grudging truce, though growing distrust and militant factions on both sides soon threaten all-out war.

Not quite the intimate parable of the first movie nor a balls-to-the-wall battlefield extravaganza, Dawn is pitched somewhere in the middle, with much of its two hour-plus running time powered by the simmering, expertly sustained tension both between and within the two species. The key to selling this knife-edge friction, of course, is the ability to buy into the apes as fully fleshed-out characters.

Incoming director Matt Reeves doesn’t monkey around in taking the rejuvenated franchise baton and running with it, offering up a sequel that – narratively and visually – sets the standard for its summer-movie stablemates. Worth seeing for Serkis and Kebbell’s simian double-act alone.

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