Let’s face it, high-minded ideas are all very well, but can they compete with a chimp on horseback firing an Uzi?
2010’s ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was as smart as modern sci-fi gets, ditching the 1960s-born franchise’s gritty dystopian roots for a slick, high-minded story of scientific overambition (with a few explosions chucked in for good measure). This first sequel, however, plunges us straight into the post-apocalyptic pressure cooker, a world of burgeoning ape civilisation and fading human dominance, as the survivors of a devastating epidemic huddle in the ruins of old San Francisco. It may lack its predecessor’s lofty ambitions, but once the bullets, spears and hairy fists start flying you’ll be too wrapped up to care.
Among the apes, the heroic Caesar (Andy Serkis) has retained clan control, leading his simian family through a decade of growth and prosperity. But for the humans it’s a whole different story, as desperate leaders Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) debate different strategies for dealing both with an impending power shortage and the encroaching threat of the apes.
The effects are nothing short of jawdropping: rarely has CGI been employed with such dexterity and depth. Caesar and his followers are complete characters, rendered flawlessly down to each wrinkle and back hair (though it can be just a little tricky at times to tell them apart). ‘Cloverfield’ director Matt Reeves marshals his action sequences superbly – a ferocious central battle is a triumph.
The script’s shameless prioritising of brawn over brains can cause problems – the plot twists are signposted a mile off, and the human characters tend to lack depth. The complete absence of a decent female character, whether human or ape, leaves it all feeling a bit punchy and macho. But perhaps that’s appropriate for this muscular tale of social collapse and base animal urges.