Let me start with admitting I am not an expert on the original “Planet of the Apes” franchise. I was entranced and terrified by the original “Planet of the Apes” (1968) when I saw it repeatedly on VHS as a kid but I have only seen pieces of the four films that followed it which I know will immediately make my analysis of this latest entry incomplete at best. I saw “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) in the theater when it came out and thought it was a solid but not exactly exceptional reboot for the franchise. Since everyone else on the internet has already pointed out that a dawn technically comes before a rise, I won’t dwell on the lackluster title for this movie but I will say this, while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is not my favorite movie of the summer it has successfully gotten me emotionally invested in this series and I’ll be in line on the first day when the next film comes our way.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is not a movie that I’m going to watch repeatedly but it is a compelling sci-fi film. I’m a huge fan of books, comics and movies that set up a believable dystopian setting with moral ambiguities on both sides of an epic struggle. Science fiction always works best for me when it manages to hold up a mirror to our own society without shoving an overt message down our throats at the expense of the story. There’s a lot that this movie gets right. Andy Serkis is at the top of his game as the heroic Caesar, who emerges as a compassionate but iron-willed leader of his people ten years after an epidemic has left only 1/500 of the human population alive. His relationship with Malcolm, played rather well by Jason Clarke, gives the movie most of its heart. As the last remaining humans in San Francisco struggle to rebuild their shattered society, inevitably they come into contact with Caesar and his fellow apes. Fear and mistrust on both sides ultimately lead to bloodshed and before long the war hawks in both camps plunge the two societies into a war that can’t be stopped, opening the door to the next installment in the franchise. For fans that simply want to see chimpanzees in action, they won’t be disappointed. The special effects in this movie are pretty jaw dropping as the apes swing through their natural habitat and eventually across the cityscape of San Francisco as the war gets into full swing. The movie probably runs a little long but I imagine hardcore fans of the franchise will likely find themselves wishing the movie ran even longer.
What I like about where the franchise is headed is that there is no chance we’ll see a restoration of a status quo that resembles our reality. There’s been too much damage done, too many lives lost and no matter what the future brings in the next installment it will bear no resemblance to the world we know and understand. **Spoilers Ahead** At the close of the film we have a scenario where Caesar truly takes after his namesake and has essentially become the emperor of San Francisco preparing for a human invasion from a military base in northern California. We have not seen any details yet about this invading force but I hope the filmmakers will throw caution to the wind and give us a Mad Max-style army of sociopaths for Caesar and his army to contend with. The filmmakers really are free to go crazy in the next story and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that we’re finally seeing the real beginning of an epic new science fiction franchise. If they don’t include “Rise”, “Dawn” or any other similar word in the next title, we’ll know that the story is actually underway.
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