Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Simply put, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a worthy sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I don't intend to spoil much, but if you're planning to see it, I suggest you do so before reading this review, as there are some things that are just more exciting to discover without knowing too much beforehand - particularly just how advanced along the journey from the Planet of Men to the Planet of the Apes the story currently sits.

I'm gonna gloss over the typical review fodder, like special effects, and actors, and all that, because I found it all to be satisfying in this movie, to focus instead on the things that really interested me - like the dramatic themes and symbolism. The movie kicks off with a demonstration of the apocalyptic impact of the "Simian Flu" that we were introduced to at the end of the last movie, and then follows with an introduction to Caesar's ape community in the California redwoods.

For a while it seems as if maybe there really are no humans left, but then, of course, they show up. And what follows is a tense and evolving standoff between the ape community who simply wants to be left alone, and a human refuge in San Francisco, that needs to get into the forest to repair the dam and get the power back on. Obviously, the apes are distrusting of the humans, considering their treatment at their hands before the Simian flu wiped them out. At the same time, Caesar - an ape of intelligence and honor - remembering the human who raised him, wants to believe that humans can be trusted, and that just maybe, man and ape could live together in harmony.

And this is the central conflict that tears the ape community apart - with Koba, Caesar's right hand ape, more distrusting of humans, and thinking Caesar is being too soft and putting the entire ape community in jeopardy. The brilliance of the movie is that, even though you may not identify with each side, they each feel justified, and so long as you're not entirely sure of the motivations of the opposing players, the suspicion and paranoia and self-doubt is warranted.

And the best part of the movie is the demonstration - as Caesar eventually learns - that man and ape are not so different after all. From the beginning, there is definitely the feeling that Caesar's community could be this experiment in an evolved, utopian sort of community. Apes are, presumably, free from the flaws that made humans betray and fight one another over petty gains. Humans are the ones who cruelly imprisoned and abused apes, and now these apes - given the intelligence to see their plight and understand the humans' failings - are in a position to do better.

But in the end, it proves to be true that apes are just as human as man. It's pretty depressing, when you think about it. But rather than believe that apes are good and men are bad (or vice versa, if you desire) as you have a tendency to want to in this movie, eventually it becomes clear that there are simply good apes and bad apes, just as there are good men and bad men. It seems obvious when stated straightforwardly, yet it is a powerful realization.

So, yeah, it was a good movie. When spoiler spoilered spoiler (you can probably guess what I'm talking about if you've seen the movie), I was actually genuinely shocked - that was a very exciting scene. And at the end, when the last human on screen fades into the darkness of a doorway, yielding to the apes' celebration, it seemed to me powerfully evocative of the transfer of the planet from the humans to the apes.

That having been said, this movie ended with the promise of a rather more immediate sequel than I was expecting. All along, I'm thinking, this is the evolution toward the Planet of the Apes of antiquity. And I guess I was kind of hoping to see the series end in a retelling of that story. But then maybe the point of these movies is not to get there, but merely to show the journey to it. I don't know what the filmmakers have in mind, but I'm a little bit cautious of dragging the story out too long, and catering to fan demands. But I haven't lost faith yet. A lot will depend on how the next movie turns out.


  1. I think I can already add this among my favorite franchises of all-time. When I rewatched Rise it completely blew me away, and Dawn left me utterly, utterly spellbound.

    I too thought this film would end differently. I haven't watched all the original Apes movies but I know there were only two prequel films, whose basic premises seem to mirror Rise and Dawn. So I was expecting a grim depressing ending where Caesar is defeated and Koba takes the apes down the path of cruelty. I guess that's something we have to look forward to for the next film, unless they do another time gap and Caesar has already passed away.

    On that topic, I really liked Koba, in the first film and the start of this one. I was sad to see him go down the way he did, but I guess we needed a villain (and better an established character than just some random new addition, plus who can blame Koba for his perspective considering how he was treated?).

    I too was thinking this series would ultimately culminate in a retelling of the original classic, after all they did include the space shuttle lunch in Rise. But considering how disastrous the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes was, I feel like it'd be unwise to try again so soon. No matter how good a new version could be, it'll never beat the original. And since these prequels are so spectacular I think I'd rather imagine them being in canon with the original classic.

    That being said, I wouldn't be opposed to a new version if they do make one. Considering how sympathetic the apes are this time around, I imagine a retelling of Planet of the Apes from the apes perspective could be fascinating.

  2. Koba made such a great villain, though! I liked it when Caesar said, "you are no ape", like in the same way that we would say to someone particularly villainous, "you're not human."

    I was thinking that this series - the way it's a serious, sophisticated, updated look on a classic - is a lot like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. It definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.