Film review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes | Grand Central

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is on general release from Thursday. Picture: Complimentary
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is on general release from Thursday. Picture: Complimentary
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Thumbs up to the apes’ evolution

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (12A)

Director: Matt Reeves

Running time: 130 minutes

* * * *

YOU don’t monkey around too much with a dystopian fantasy like Planet Of The Apes; diehard fans love the originals, and there may even be some Missing Link types who harbour a soft spot for Tim Burton’s misguided 2001 remake. And unlike dog films, cat films and horse films, the Apes saga toys with simians as our primitive id, and a funhouse mirror to rich racial or sexual metaphors.

Also, you get to see monkeys putting on makeup.

This film opens a decade after the action in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and mankind has been practically wiped out by a bout of simian flu which also handily eradicates the need to revive human cast members such as James Franco and Freida Pinto from the previous film. Franco appears briefly in archive footage, but audiences needn’t rummage around their long-term memories for plot points from the 2011 film; all you need to know is that apes are here, hunt with spears and humanity had better get used to it.

Following a massive ape exodus from the Gen-Sys Labs at the end of the last film, a genetically upgraded simian collective has installed itself just beyond what used to be San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Since there’s little news of what is happening in other ape communities globally, a more candid title would have been Rise Of The Suburb Of The Apes, but Peter Jackson’s digital animation house Weta concocts a detailed multicultural community, comprising orangutans, chimps, gorillas and bonobos who hunt, fish and fight bears. Some of them even ride horses – though obviously not you, marmosets.

They also make the transition from body language and grunts to communicating through signing and language with their leader, Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis). A chimpanzee raised in captivity by Franco, Caesar is now an Abraham Lincoln of the apes, who has to mediate on inter-species prejudice, has Abe’s weary bearing, plus his speeches are the longest in the ape community.

The human beings in this 3D picture all feel a little 2D in comparison with Caesar and Co. Caesar’s human equivalent is an anguished widower called Malcolm (Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty) but his main task is shouldering the plot, by pushing for an ape-human detente so that he can gain access to the O’Shaughnessy Dam and restart electric power. Malcolm’s son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a reflection of the growing pains of Caesar’s boy, and even Gary Oldman’s bereaved and belligerent military man is a poor Xerox of his alter-ego Koba (Toby Kebbell), a lab chimp turned dyed-in-the-fur species supremacist. Fully-rounded female characters appear to have been wiped from the planet.

Yet it could have been much worse. When Matt Reeves was brought in to replace Rupert Wyatt, there was a sense that, as the director of creature feature Cloverfield and the remake of vampire horror Let Me In, he would be content to unleash monsters and repurpose an earlier, original hit. Actually, aside from its puny human interest, Dawn... exceeds expectations and its predecessor with a good balance of character and action, exciting showdowns and plenty to talk about on the way home. Two opposable thumbs up .

Finding Vivian Maier (15)

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WHEN fleamarket scavenger John Maloof purchased a box of photo negatives at auction in 2007, he was hoping for a cache of pictures that might capture old Chicago. Instead, he found much more; hundreds of captivating mid-20th century street images taken by a nanny called Vivian Maier (right).

Some enterprising detective work – and fortuitous finds of home-movie footage and more of Maier’s compelling pictures – pulls a contradictory life into focus. Maier worked with children because it allowed her to wander the streets with her charges, photographing whatever took her fancy. Some remember their nanny so affectionately that they paid her rent in later life. Others speak of a remote and potentially damaged personality, so secretive she padlocked her bedroom door.

Everyone identified her as a compulsive photographer – when one of her children was hit by a car, Maier photographed the scene instead of rushing to help – yet few people saw her pictures during her lifetime.

The intriguing issue of rights is only partly addressed, however. Maier had no close family, and Maloof has bought up all her work, so this documentary also provides a long advertisement for prints he is selling. Also, it’s noticeable that those who dismiss Maier’s work never get a voice here.

Crucially, would the very private Maier have wanted her pictures published, and her life exposed? While tacitly acknowledging the dilemma, this fascinating, frustrating film sidles away from the bigger picture.

Edinburgh Filmhouse 18-24 July

Grand Central (15)

* * *

A risky job in a nuclear power plant gives rise to an amour fou between a cash-strapped labourer (Tahar Rahim) and the wife of a colleague (Lea Seydoux).

Geiger counters might detect their affair will take a predictable path, but director Rebecca Zlotowski ratchets up surprising levels of tension with her neo-noir. However, the effort to equate illicit passion with radioactive overheating sometimes reaches dangerous levels of obviousness.

GFT Friday until 24 July

Transformers: Age Of Extinction (12A)

* *

“The age of the Transformers is over,” proclaims Kelsey Grammer’s CIA agent, cruelly offering false hope to those of us who have had our inner and outer ears rattled by the last three outings of Michael Bay’s cacophonous monster robot series.

This Transformers does not offer extinction, more an attempt to respray and reset this wayward tale of duelling dustbins. Out goes previous star Shia LaBeouf, and in comes Mark Wahlberg (above) as an remarkably buff inventor, plus his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz), who runs around their farm in high heels and full-face makeup, looking like a tipsy pole dancer.

Wahlberg’s latest project is a fixer-upper: a beaten-up, second-hand truck, which turns out to be a disguised and wounded Optimus Prime, leader of the good guy Autobots. When the Feds track him down, this sparks off another round of battles between Autobots, Decepticons and some new boys: the Dinobots.

The robotwars are a bit more coherent than on previous occasions, but an abrupt shift to China only makes sense if you remember that this movie is being co-bankrolled by the world’s second biggest film market.

Shameless, soulless and – at 165 minutes – endless: this feels awfully like metal fatigue.