The original Planet of the Apes, which was released into theaters in 1968, has an iconic spot in science fiction cinema. It jarred people. Today, the climatic ending may seem hokey and cliché, but that’s because every movie that looks for the easy way out takes the route of Planet of the Apes, which was anything but easy and routine in 1968. The rest of the series of movies has its ups and downs, but none are like the original. None possessed the unexpected qualities nor presented such a starkly different world from our own. It is for those reasons that I was skeptical of this new rebooting of the franchise.
A reboot was done in 2001, which starred Mark Wahlberg, but was utterly lackluster and without a shred of creativity. A sad and sorry attempt by a usually pleasing Tim Burton. With that way in the rearview mirror, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released in 2011. It wasn’t a game-changer in terms of execution, but it went outside the box of the established world, giving audiences something new and interesting to watch.
Now, it was finally time for the sequel and boy, it was well worth the wait. Visually, it was as stunning as any movie I have ever seen. The texture and feel of the ape world was almost unsettling at times. Most effectively done was the apes use of guns. It allowed us, as moviegoers, to see the contrast between a civilization without guns and a civilization with guns. With guns come fear and control and, most importantly, power.
With those amazing special effects also came great action sequences (Sidenote: Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar, was absolutely amazing. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before performances like his get the widespread recognition they deserve. The dude is actually acting). For a movie right smack dab in the middle of “blockbuster season,” Dawn was refreshingly smart. It did not skip plot lines and omit character arcs for elongated fight scenes and extra explosions *cough cough Michael Bay cough cough*. It was a smart script that was emotionally resonant for the humans and the apes.
Yes, this film makes you care about the apes and does a wonderful job in making humans and apes relate. Caesar and Malcolm, played by Aussie Jason Clarke, are characters who resemble each other. Caesar has a family and cares for it. He would do anything to keep them safe, even allow safe passage to the humans as to not start a war, which would put many apes in danger, since they lacked the firepower of the humans. The same can be said about Malcolm, who is willing to risk life and limb to turn the power back on and keep his family safe. One human, one ape, but both worlds alike.
What is great about the Apes franchise is how scary it is. Not in the slasher horror movie kind of way where we know a killer is lurking in the shadows. No, more of the “it’s so true, it’s scary” variety. We all know we evolved from apes, so, when we see an ape, we instinctively know that we were once them. It is unnerving to think of a world turned upside down. A world where apes dominate and humans are the animals of the wild. The “what if” question that is such a strength in science fiction movies. Take a small amount of truth, mix it with some chance, speculate on the possibilities, and give us an answer. The only thing we ask is to make that answer plausible. Give us reasons and evidence to support your theory and how we arrived at this conclusion. This new Apes reboot does all that so well and we are completely immersed into a world that is so eerily similar to ours. Who knows, maybe there was a time in evolution where nature chose humans to advance and left the apes in the dust, leaving them to become the primitive beings they are today, but the answers in this rebooted series are more plausible (obviously, I love speculating on things though. It’s my human right. Ape slam!).
And the commentary this film provides on how humans act is on the mark. “Ape start war,” Caesar tells Malcolm, “Human don’t forgive ape.” Its a tale as long as time. Forgiveness, no matter how hard we try, fails. We thrive on conflict, feed off it like a vampire feeds off blood. Forgiveness is incorrectly correlated as a weakness, when in fact only the strong forgive. Dreyfus, played by the fantastic Gary Oldman, always had his doubts about the apes and their attack was the only excuse needed to try and end their race. No diplomacy or seek for peace. Straight to warfare and bombs in hopes of “saving the human race.”
Apes and humans were shown in the film as being able to cooperate. However, there is an inherent hatred towards the other race. Sound familiar? Take Carver and Koba, Carver is a human who is almost like a bigot, except the race he hates is ape and nothing will change his mind. Koba, an ape, feels the exact same way, except against humans. Classic racism on display as the hatred and lack of sympathy is something the world sees on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, this movie does not give us the happy ending. It’s not telling us that we are going to be okay and make it through the difficult times. We are going to fight because of the lack of forgiveness each race has for the other, most notably with the humans. I get the sense Caesar could sway his group of apes to forgive the humans and move on. But humans are stupid and noncompliant and love when things go boom.