Alarms bells started ringing out across the web when Rupert Wyatt dropped out of directing this sequel to his brilliant reboot, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, citing the fact that he felt he had too little time to do the movie justice.
But fear not, good fellows, our simians ‘friends’ are in excellent hands.
Fox have passed the baton on to Matt Reeves, director of the 2008 smash-hit ‘Cloverfield’, and his writers dive headfirst into this apocalyptic world, taking the chance to deal with themes of war, racial tension and the arms trade. The whole piece is led by its biting social commentary, that even manages to over-shadow the sociopolitical undercurrents of the first movie.
But that’s because this sequel is a totally different beast. Ten years have passed and the deadly virus featured in Rise has wiped out most of the world’s population. So the initial set of human characters are replaced by a small community of survivors left to rebuild a broken San Francisco. The apes, however, have fared far better and Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads the group in their kingdom amongst the trees. Tensions soon begin to mount when the two species once again come into contact with each other and Caesar is pushed to his limit when it comes to his undying love for the human race.
There are echoes of the Chaos Walking series of novels (do check them out, if you get the chance) in this second installments thematic progression from the first. But despite the issues on display here being far grander and more sweeping, they’re no less challenging. And the truly remarkable fact is that these themes seem more important than they ever have on the silver screen, despite stemming from a bunch of animated chimps.
We spend a good hour of the movie without a single human in sight, yet the film still fizzes with raw emotion. The early scenes of apes conversing in sign are perfectly realised and it’s almost a shame that they began to learn to speak. It was a step that they had to make in order to match up with the all-singing, all-dancing apes of the 1968 original, but those signing scenes are exquisite.
And what a job those performance capture artists do, if you thought the animation work in the first film was top-notch, wait until you see this. The increased scale forces the animators hand in so many ways, but they do a terrific job of managing it. And the way the CGI characters interact with their environment is unparalleled. Every quivering branch seems uncannily real and I’ll be damned if Maurice isn’t a real orangutan.
But, although the performance capture extras deserve a great deal of credit, the work of Serkis and newcomer Toby Kebbell is in a league of its own. Serkis yet again shines as the highly conflicted and unerringly charismatic Caesar, but it’s Kebbell who really surprises as he steps into Christopher Gordon’s shoes to take on the role of Koba, the truly terrifying rebel in the group. He nails a couple of chilling personality switches and stands as one of the most fearsome movie characters in quite some time.
The two apes spend the entire movie engaged in a Shakespearean conflict – echoing Othello and Iago – and, once Caesar’s family is brought into the mix, elements of ‘Hamlet’ soon begin to emerge. The fact that any movie in 2014 can even draw comparisons to the master himself beggars belief, and for that movie to be a $170m blockbuster is an even greater credit to Twentieth Century Fox and the filmmakers they hired. And, to think, this is all coming from computer-generated apes . . .
The entire movie feels deeply earnest and treats its source, and its audience, with the upmost respect. This is a real magnum opus for the franchise and all the talent involved and is without doubt the movie of the summer, if not the year. I may have been late to the party, but please ensure you catch this while it’s still in theatres. It’s immensely challenging, issue-cinema on the grandest of scales and that kind of ambition (and delivery) deserves all the praise we can throw at it. Truly mind-blowing.