Et tu, Brute? Andy Serkis as the ape-leader Ceasar.
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Monkey business: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is smart, ravishing and bleak

The latest addition to the Planet of the Apes franchise is the toughest yet - the transition from playful ape and human interaction to bloody horror comes across as scarily plausible.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12A)
dir: Matt Reeves

Caesar, Ash, Rocket, Blue Eyes. No, not the members of a new boy band but the hirsute protagonists of the latest instalment in a franchise that is both long-running and long of title. After previous outings such as Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Slightly to the Left of the Planet of the Apes, we now have Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Beginning with the eradication of mankind by the simian flu that spread at the end of the last film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the new picture is the bleakest in a series that was never exactly all-singing, all-dancing.

It is also smart and visually ravishing – at times even Constable-esque in its moist, verdant landscapes – without ever stinting on thrills. The only audiences likely to be disappointed are those expecting a dumbing-down or a lightening-up. Let’s put it this way: if the series ever spawns a movie entitled Light at the End of the Tunnel of the Planet of the Apes, I’m a monkey’s uncle.

One of the surprises of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which rebooted the series and felt like the documentary Project Nim remade as an action blockbuster, was the moment halfway through when the laboratory apes began to communicate among themselves in sign language, subtitled for our benefit. It was odd to eavesdrop on what the animals thought about their human captors – about us.

This time, it’s a different world. The apes dwell in sophisticated forest encampments and talk of humans much as we might now mention Woolworths, mockingly but with a tinge of nostalgia. The merest shrug between apes translates into many subtitled sentences; they converse so economically, it’s like being in the company of several hundred Robert Mitchums. But they have also increased their spoken vocabulary and can say “family”, “future”, “home” and other rudimentary nouns. Never mind monkeys, typewriters and the collected works of Shakespeare: this lot is already capable of turning out a Tony Parsons novel.

Caesar remains the charismatic, even-tempered leader, cognisant (unlike many of his fellow apes) of the good that humans can do, as well as the ill. He is played by the British actor Andy Serkis, the undisputed king of motion-capture performance, for which an actor wears a skin-tight, blue suit studded with lights (imagine a raver on the late-1980s acid house scene), enabling whatever he or she does to be translated by computer into an animated performance. The technology is so advanced that we can no longer see on-screen where the actors end and the apes begin.

Serkis (a former Mike Leigh regular whose motion-capture career began when he was cast as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) nabs the most brooding close-ups. He gives Caesar a trademark incredulous stare that gets a big laugh. Head bowed and eyes raised, he seems to be saying, “You’re shitting me, right?” And his pathos is bottomless. The film ends with his soulful peepers staring out at us, imploring and accusing.

When the apes discover a settlement of humans not far from the forest, they are torn between those represented by Caesar, who want to help the stragglers, and those led by Koba (Toby Kebbell), who makes Stalin look as cute as a PG Tips chimp. The rest of the film explores these tensions with admirable thoroughness. Arguments are lucid on both sides, actions intelligible. Everything will be going fine and then a human will jeopardise it by doing something rash. Or else the humans will be playing ball when Koba or his allies will lash out. One scene showing apes mingling with humans is terrifying in the suddenness with which it tips from tomfoolery to horror – and highly plausible.

Can the apes and the humans ever co­exist peacefully? Don’t bet on it – the franchise would be over if they did. Sometimes, though, the unlikely happens. Caesar finds a dusty camcorder, unused for decades, which bleeps magically into life at first try. Then there’s that defunct movie series about a world overrun by apes, the subject of a dreadful salvage attempt in 2001 by Tim Burton, which has now delivered a pair of cerebral and suspenseful action thrillers. Anything’s possible.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Our Island Story

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Politicians and fashion? Why their approach can be telling

My week, from spying on the spies to Theresa May’s fashion charm offensive – and how Sadiq stole hearts.

About nine months ago I was asked if I wanted to spend a morning with Zac Goldsmith, as he appeared to be wakening from the slumber that had obviously taken hold of him when he decided to run for mayor of London. However, after about three minutes in his company (maybe less, actually) I realised that not even his campaign team – let alone voters in the Borough of Southwark – thought he had a hope in hell of winning.

There was only ever going to be one winner, and the enthusiasm with which Sadiq Khan has been greeted by London has been heartwarming. He won the politician award at GQ’s Men of the Year Awards a few weeks ago, and I’d never heard such a roar as he leapt up on stage to collect it. Well, I’ve heard such roars for the likes of Michael Caine, Elton John and Amy Schumer, but rarely for a politician. In fact, the last time there was such fulsome applause for a politician at the GQ awards was when we gave one to a pre-Sextator David Blunkett. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: the last time Noel Gallagher graced us with his presence, he asked: “Is this what a Conservative party conference looks like?”

 

On the dole

The recent past is being hauled over so repeatedly that soon there are going to be ­retrospectives of events that happened only last week. Or next week. On paper, the new exhibition at the V&A in London, entitled “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970”, seemed slightly behind the curve, but the reality is very different – as it’s probably the best exhibition you’ll see in London this year.

This is all down to the curation, which was handled by Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes, the wizards behind “David Bowie Is”, the most successful show in the V&A’s history. It’s a terrific exhibition, although being reminded of the cultural and political insurrection of the Sixties also reminds you of the period’s seemingly innate optimism as a new London was mushrooming into life. Winston Churchill was dead, abortion was about to be made legal and the rise in happiness seemed exponential. Britain was experiencing almost full employment (though the government wobbled slightly in the spring of 1966 when it was announced that the jobless total had gone up to half a million). It never occurred to anyone that there might not be a job
waiting for them when they left school or their red-brick university.

 

Priced out

There certainly won’t be a house waiting for them, not if they intend to live in London. The marketing bods behind the new development at Battersea Power Station came in to make a presentation at Vogue House a few weeks ago, showing us lots of slides and videos about their fabulous ­development. There’s a Frank Gehry this and a Frank Gehry that, a swimming pool, a private members’ club and lots of artisanal independent retailers selling organic rhubarb and fancy beer, blah blah blah.

Their roll-call of “good things” included the ominous words “affordable housing”, but this appears to be anything but. After the presentation, I promptly stuck my hand up and asked them what they actually meant by affordable housing. The answer I got wasn’t satisfactory, so I asked again: “What does your entry-level accommodation cost?” And the very charming man with the lapel-mike coughed apologetically and almost whispered, “£350,000.” At which point I made my excuses and left.

The idea that my daughters can one day get on the property ladder in London is pure fantasy, and they certainly won’t be living in Battersea, or indeed anywhere near it.

 

Back in fashion

Last Thursday, Theresa May hosted her first reception at Downing Street for the British fashion industry, an event that usually takes place twice a year, and which is attended by fashion designers, industry figures, newspaper and magazine editors and the like. ­Samantha Cameron was always a significant supporter of the sector (which contributes more to the country’s GDP than the car industry), as was Sarah Brown before her, and it is instructive that May has decided to follow in their footsteps.

It’s also telling that Mrs Cameron was not only invited to the event at No 10 but turned up, which says a lot about both women. Theresa May is a fundamentally shy person, yet she not only made a pitch-perfect speech in front of a Brexit-sensitive (and quite possibly suspicious) crowd, but chose to embrace the opportunity to espouse the growing importance of an industry that was so closely associated with the wife of her predecessor. There is such a lot of noise at the moment surrounding the PM’s apparent lack of interest in remaining on good terms with David Cameron, so one wonders what, if anything, is going on here. Taken at face value, May’s move at the reception was extremely classy.

 

The spying game

The following day I found myself in Cheltenham for a five-hour briefing on counterterrorism, cyber-defence, drug smuggling and child kidnapping at GCHQ.

I had expected the place to be like the Foreign Office, but it’s actually more like Google, Apple or Nike, and feels as though it could easily be a campus on America’s “Left Coast”.

There is an incredible sense of purpose at GCHQ, a feeling that they are all working for the common good, and frankly I found it infectious. While the denizens of Silicon Valley might be very adept at pushing the frontiers of consumerism, designing training shoes, telephones and algorithms, it felt far more appropriate to be spending time with men and women obsessed with making the world safer.

Dylan Jones is the editor-in-chief of GQ and a trustee of the Hay Festival

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times