Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12A, 130 mins)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (12A, 130 mins)

Director: Matt Reeves

4 stars

A movie series that has now been ongoing for 46 years continues to go from strength to strength with this terrific prequel-sequel.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes arrived as a very pleasant surprise in 2011, following the dismal Tim Burton remake, and sought to fill in the events that led to the dominant species on earth being our ape cousins instead of us.

The beginning of the end came with chimpanzees enhanced by genetic testing. They didn't spend the first film trying to overrun humans, but to escape captivity, and when last we saw them they had made their way into the forest, as far away from cities as possible.

Now, ten years on from those events, a simian flu has wiped out most of humanity, which means the entire human cast from first time around has been jettisoned.

That matters not, because the star of these films has always been Andy Serkis, who gets top billing here as Caesar, the leader of the apes.

Serkis provides both the motion-captured physical movements and the voice for Caesar, and everything he does is astonishing, from his posture and body language to the tiniest facial expressions.

Where once it was all makeup used to realise the apes, now everything is computer generated and the astounding visual effects are on a level up from even the first film, never failing to convince for a moment.

So now the apes live out of the way in the forest, in a peaceful village that fosters community and education.

We first see them as they hunt deer, some of them on horseback, and it's a stirring sight. They haven't seen a human in so long that they're beginning to wonder if there are even any left at all.

Come to that, so does the audience, and the possibility that this is a film featuring nothing but CG primates is a tantalising one.

But small pockets of humanity still cling on, and in San Francisco they're fronted by Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke.

With civilisation as we knew it all but gone, they live in a world closer in tone to the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a zombie outbreak.

But they still have a need for energy, and this sends Clarke to try to fix a dam located near the apes, whose permission and ultimately help they'll need to get the job done.

The story is told from both points of view, and the question raised is one of which side we should be on, the humans who want "their" planet returned to them, or apes who just want to be left alone.

The trump card here is that we're not encouraged to choose; there is good and bad, right and wrong on both sides and that's exactly the point.

Some apes want war, in particular Koba (Toby Kebbell) who is unable to forget the experimenting done on him as a lab chimp.

Caesar does not want war, but he'll fight if they must. "Humans destroyed each other," says Koba. "Apes fight too," comes the reply from Caesar.

This is the tipping point, either into war or into a world where apes and humans can coexist peacefully. Fighting or diplomacy is the choice, illustrated by remarkable characterisation on the part of the apes, and the complexities and frailties of humans on the other.

It's a powerful scenario, intelligently and thoughtfully executed, taking on fear and retribution and cycles of violence with themes that resonate all over our own planet of the humans right now.

Truth be told, it does rather start to linger on the point after a while. But with such an attention-grabbing first act and the strength of its convictions running all the way through it, that's a small niggle.

And those in the market for non-stop action may have to look elsewhere if they've just come for explosions.

This isn't Transformers, where the mayhem might be wall-to-wall but nothing ever actually happens.

Action is at a premium during the first half, but that's ok, as tensions are built so that when the carefully picked moments of battle do come, they're rooted in character and thrilling to behold. This is quality sci-fi for a discerning audience and hopefully there's plenty more to come.

See it if you liked: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the Apes

Pudsey the Dog: The Movie (PG, 87 mins)

Director: Nick Moore

2 stars

Britain, if the TV schedulers are to be believed, has got talent, and none of us more so than Pudsey the dancing dog.

This poorly conceived big screen adventure sees the obliging and heroic pooch (voiced by David Walliams for some reason channelling Blakey in On the Buses) get taken in by a family who have just moved to the countryside and who have problems aplenty that Pudsey can help them with.

John Sessions manages to raise a smile or two with his pantomime turn as the villain of the piece who has plans to turn the village into a mega-mall, but mostly this is a whole bunch of poop jokes and people falling over.

It's thrown together without care or skill, but it is what it is, which is an undemanding bit of silliness for the under 10s, and by those standards it ticks the required boxes.

See it if you liked: Hotel For Dogs, The Harry Hill Movie, Horrid Henry

Grand Central (15, 95 mins)

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski

3 stars

Two of French cinema's brightest young stars, Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour), come together for this low key drama.

He's a low-skilled worker who takes a job at a nuclear plant, aware of the dangers of radiation, but the real trouble starts when he begins an affair with a co-worker's fiancé (Seydoux).

It's a familiar stew of workplace mundanity and blue collar carousing that takes an unhurried approach to its fairly ordinary material.

With little to compel in the relationship between Rahim and Seydoux, it functions better as a portrait of exploited workers than as a romantic drama.