This S#!T is Bananas
I was about 99% sure I was going to like the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And I was 100% correct about that. Just a few short years ago, when Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released, however, that number was much lower. The level of expectation was set at the memory of a mediocre Tim Burton movie roughly a decade before. I can remember cautiously going into Rise wondering if a lifelong Planet of the Apes fan/Roddy McDowell groupie would be crushed by what evil 20th Century Fox had done to a beloved franchise.
I was first introduced to POTA back when I was just a young kid growing up in the 80’s. I don’t know if I should, but I associate my introduction to it with my father. It’s quite possible I think of him being a bigger fan than he was. It’s more likely he just watched it with me. But the first movie with Charlton Heston was on the Disney Channel back when it was a pay cable channel like HBO, where you had to get a subscription for it. I could probably go off on quite a long tangent about how much greater Disney Channel was back then, being a big part of what planted the seeds for many of the things I would come to like for what has been the rest of my life thus far.
I loved the original movies. Check that. I love the original movies. And not because they are, as some might refer to them, cheesy good fun. I like them because I consider them great movies. All of them. Sure, they show their time as you sit through them, and I know more than a few people who would fall asleep during the first one. But that one in particular is a classic in science fiction, and I didn’t think they could make a movie nowadays about the same subject matter that, well, mattered.
In the early 2000’s when Timmy Burton came on the scene with his remake/sequel/reimagining (I don’t know that they ever did decide what it was- which could be the problem), I was pretty stoked. A movie like this with a lot of practical effects? And some really great actors? Good stuff. Then I saw the movie with a fellow young nerd, driving 20 miles to the nearest town since our town didn’t get the flick. I don’t recall if she was a huge fan of the Apes as I was, or just general nerdery, but neither of us really liked the flick. We liked parts of it, but as with many post-2000 Burton movies, it left us with the feeling like we’d consumed a meal that left us with empty stomachs.
And when Rise came out, I was a little nervous it’d be another empty cash-grab. One last attempt to see if there was any money to be milked from the Ape-cow. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was, and I know this comparison is already starting to get old, the Batman Begins for POTA. It reset the franchise while adhering to it, paying tribute to it, and even fitting into it. But it told the same story in a more modern way, weaving complex social themes with a wonderful action story that tells a grave warning about a great many things.
If Rise was Batman Begins, then Dawn is most certainly The Dark Knight. It continues the story, raises the stakes, and brings us into a world fully realized. Every good thing you’ll hear or read about this movie is true. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar for this and the previous movie (something co-star James Franco strongly petitioned for after the last flick), along with some of the other performers bringing supporting apes to life. The actor who portrayed Koba is a highlight. There is nothing to make you believe that these are anything other than actual talking apes. And part of what makes their performances work is that their characters are given real parts.
Another comparison to be made with Dawn is the recent train wreck calling itself a Transformers movie (which I hate to admit I know people who liked it). Where Transformers fails, Dawn succeeds on every level. The most important of these is, where the “creative” forces behind TF tried to give their CGI robots something to say when it came to quips, and to move the story along, Dawn has actual characters. These apes have distinct personalities and points of view. The story flows naturally from both of these, instead of one forcing the other because it’d be cool. And there are points to be made on both sides.
The other characters in Dawn, the humans, are also far superior to the, um, robotic homo sapiens in TF. They also have those personality things, and points of view. It’s when their interests among each other and with the apes, and then among the apes, clash that we get to the meat of things. Events are set in motion based on logical trains of thought, and not arbitrarily thrown together as a plot. Sure, there are “bad” guys in this, but they have a point. And you might agree with their points. Mine is that no matter what side of the divide you fall on, human or ape (or between their internal divides), you give a shit about somebody. In other summer blockbusters, there are too often occasions where everyone is expendable, and you feel nothing.
I get the sense that upon further viewings of this movie (and I will watch it again), I will discover little things I didn’t see before. I get sucked into Rise every time it’s on TV, and I still find subtleties and hints at things reaching for and building to a larger canon in the story. Only the writers know where the story will go to get us to the next plateau in the saga (Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have done great with these two films), but I’m intrigued. Predictions point to the title probably being War of (or for) the Planet of the Apes, since you know, ‘Battle for’ is already taken (plus, don’t Rise and Dawn really mean the same thing? No more synonym titles, please). And if they can add to the roster of directors they have had in Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves, we’ll be in great shape.
Not just an orgy of summer explosions, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continues the refreshed franchise in meaningful and entertaining ways that pay homage to the original films while appropriately continuing to set itself apart as its own wonderful entity.