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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (Matt Reeves, 2014)

A very comfortable progression from the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, itself a thoroughly enjoyable and adult sci-fi picture. It’s to the credit of Fox Studios that they’re trusting enough to allow Matt Reeves to turn out a picture of this breed, one which builds on the strongest features of Rupert Wyatt’s film by playing the anti-blockbuster card, acknowledging that the best elements of part 1 were the human-free sections of mo-cap monkey and gearing the film heavily toward more time spent with the beautifully-realised ape characters. It’s quite a turn-around for the studio, once notorious for unwelcome interference, now seemingly content for the creatives to play. Both Apes and X-Men titles are back from the brink this last couple of years and finally fulfilling their promise.

The performance capture technology, for all its great use in earlier works (including the first film),  feels as though it’s realising its potential on this project. Reeves shoots a lot of the ape material on exterior locations out in the San Francisco forests, giving an earthy, lived-in feel that the digital characters slip seamlessly into. Unlike say, Avatar, where there felt a visible clash in styles between the fully animated jungle environments and the live-action sets, Dawn does a near-flawless job of integrating its CG characters into the real-world setting, believably interacting with both forest and human co-leads alike.

There’s a neatly uncomplicated ‘clash of the civilisations’ thing running through the picture, rammed with the sort of on-the-nose social comment that worked so well for the original franchise. It’s always a surprise when mega-budget features grapple, successfully, with tough ideas – especially ones without tidy or typically happy conclusions. The performances feel so complete and the storytelling so sharp that it’s an absolute pleasure to be guided into that level of engagement and the endless possibilities ahead for future stories in this world.

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