By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
As the end credits for this follow-up to the prequel of “Planet of the Apes” were running and I was basking in the satisfaction of not only having seen a great sequel but also a great movie, I was distracted by some commentary from a couple of disgruntled critics sitting in front of me. “There was, like, 20 minutes of unnecessary anti-gun rhetoric in this movie,” complained one. “Yeah, and why did they have to keep going on and on about the power struggles?” grumbled another.
Really? This is what these poor suckers got out of this film? Maybe next time they should just sit back and enjoy, instead of looking for some sort of deep meaning that isn’t there.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is hitting screens three years after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” breathed fresh air into a once hot franchise that stumbled badly when Tim Burton’s sloppy reboot came out in 2001. The solid prequel went back to the source of how Earth’s apes began to take control of the planet from the humans. This sequel’s storyline picks up 10 years later, well after a “simian flu” has run from human to human and, with a survival rate of 1 in 500, has decimated the population. There are a large number of survivors who were immune to the virus, but they’re spread out and, at least in San Francisco, where this story is set, their power supply is running low. They have plenty of guns and ammo, but not much else.
Meanwhile, the ape population is doing quite well, building up their own society in the woods around the Bay area, communicating mostly with hand signs (not to worry, there are subtitles), hunting for their food, and getting by just fine without the need of any power source, and certainly without any humans getting in the way. In fact, no humans have even been seen for about two years, remarks one of them.
Sorry, apes. Say hello to some humans, who are heading for the woods to fix up an abandoned dam that might return power to San Francisco. The apes are as surprised by the sight of the gun-toting humans as the humans are to find out the apes can speak ... English!
This all turns into a study of two very different societies – one that’s quite content living off the land, and one that wants to get back to its glory days. Can they work together to achieve their goals? It would be safer to bet on something like that happening in today’s House of Representatives than in the film’s San Francisco setting.
The questions being asked here range from the apes discussing whether they should attack the humans to the humans discussing whether they should attack the apes.
But things get a lot more complicated than that simple plot. Some quality script time is spent developing the characters of the heroes from each side: the human leader Malcom (Jason Clarke) and the ape leader Caesar (voiced and motion capture-acted by Andy Serkis). There’s also a well-structured look at the lead villains from each side: the humans’ trigger-happy Carver (Kirk Acevedo) and the apes’ scarred and angry Koba (Toby Kebbell, replacing Chris Gordon in the previous film), who is still fuming at his treatment by humans back when he was in captivity (yes, you need to see the first film to understand this character better).
The writers take the extra step in the building of parallel structures by also showing the similarities and differences between the families of Malcolm and Caesar. Nice touch there! As is the idea of humans fearing apes, and apes mistrusting humans. That part of the story goes even further when it starts to focus on the ideological differences between conflicted but seemingly benevolent Caesar and possibly insane Koba, and between hopeful Malcolm and suspicious politician-type Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, who is stuck with some weak dialogue and not fully fleshed-out characterization).
The film’s visuals are fantastic, from the sights of hordes of apes moving through treetops to the astounding action sequences when war in the city is presented in all of its thrilling, violent chaos. “Rise” was a very good film. “Dawn” is a better one. A still-untitled third film is scheduled for 2016.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback; directed by Matt Reeves
With Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman, Toby Kebbell
Movie review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ tops Rise’
By Ed Symkus