There will be massive spoilers and I realize this movie came out last year but others, like me might still be deciding if they want to watch it.
Many of us are familiar with the Planet of the Apes movie franchise. We have a secret love for the overall monkeyness of Roddy McDowall’s Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes, and his subsequent role as Cornelius’s son, Caeser, as savior of ape and humankind. And for anyone who wonders, Caeser seems to be a chimpanzee (or possibly bonobo) in the ape family. There have been several versions of Planet of the Apes since those early years, in cinema and on TV. I haven’t seen them all.
With the great range of special effects and digital motion capture available now, any film is possible. Creating more realistic apes as well as developing great new plots should make for a lot of great cinema. And if you look at Rotten Tomatoes or other review sites Dawn of the Planet of the Apes rated high, to which I must say I’m truly stunned. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was good; it wasn’t great. And having Andy Serkis add his skills into realistic primate movements of the ape definitely enhanced the visual richness of the film.
But…I just am not sure about the rest. Plot. We open with an idyllic scene of apes in the woods, then they move into the great hunt (even though apes are herbivores!). From this we understand their complex society and that they use mostly sign language. Pan to the lovely ape village and Caeser becoming a proud papa to a second son while the first, injured from a stupid move, looks on with doe eyes. The mother is thrown in as a later heart-string to pull, and isn’t even named; pretty much a token female if I ever saw one. But that’s not important. Caeser sits with a buddy overlooking his land and they speculate: Do you think they’re all gone? Haven’t seen one in ten years. We know what’s coming next. Enter the humans. This is called foreshadowing and is an acceptable plot device but gee, was it really needed?
Here’s where the blatant plot devices jumped up and shot me in the face. Dumb guy walking through the woods encounters two apes, Caeser’s son, Blue Eyes and friend Ash. Outnumbered, even though they’re standing there stunned, the guy shoots one which brings all apedom down on his ass, so that he and his compatriots are evicted by Caeser from the garden of Eden. The apes follow them back to their home (San Francisco).
Gary Oldman looks like he’s not the bad guy (for once), but the nominal leader of the little band of humans that have survived the simian virus that wiped out most of earth. But while everyone assures the humans that they are immune to the virus or they would already be dead, Gary, as Dreyfus, lives up to morally ambiguous bad buy status by believing the apes will come to kill humans because they are “animals.” Those of us with primate brains realize we’re all animals. Thankfully we’re not hit over the head with this comparison.
Malcolm (Jason Clarke) is the feeling guy who believes the apes are okay but they need to get to the dam and see if they can start the generators because San Fran is almost out of power. Really? It takes people 10 years to get off their butts to check this out? They’ve been getting by on what, frozen vegetables in all this time and nobody thought to look to the future until they have less than a month of power remaining? And neither the apes (in swinging distance) or the humans (in proximal driving distance) were aware of each other in all this time? Good lord. The humans deserve to die off if they’re this stupid. And somehow the apes didn’t know there is a dam nearby.
So let’s back up a minute to the apes, who like to wear white warpaint across their ribs and faces. The female apes like to wear some sort of flower fringe over their mouths (why?) or on their brows as Caeser’s spouse does, because you know, apes have to follow human characteristics of gender differentiation. They also ride horses, though earlier they swung with ease and swiftness into the San Fran precincts. Did no one else notice the blatant comparison to the American Indians in the days of white settlers and the army? They ride their horses the same. They have spears whereas the humans have greater fire power, and eventually lay siege to the palisades of San Francisco. They fit the trope of the noble savage. But one caveat here: no matter how science fictional or fantastical our tales are, if there is war or aggressors they will always, always look like one cultural group or another; because we are human and only have our cultures for perspective.
Apes are noble…except for the bad guys. Dumb guy who shot the apes may as well be called Doubting Thomas and naysays everything, as a suspicious dude and isn’t moved by Caeser’s baby crawling all over them in cuteness. (By the way, what ape mother would allow her baby away from her side at such a young age, as in just born?) Of course Doubting Thomas is the only guy who can turn on the generators (really?) so he must come along and they know he’s skittish so no one searches him even though he’s a liability for violence. You know it’s going to go bad, right? Well it does but he’s not the initiator after the first shot.
Enter Koba, the ugly ape, scarred by human testing, hateful and distrustful and Caeser’s right-hand chimp. Koba wants to kill all the humans while back in the human camp Dreyfus wants to kill all the apes because, by god, they’re animals! We already know that ugly people/creatures are never the good guys. Blue Eyes loses faith with his human loving dad and joins Koba who goes to the human stockade and searches, to turn up their arsenal and folks doing target practice. Koba is so hateful, he mimics a happy chimp to cause homicide, and then arrives back in the ape lands to shoot Caeser, which of course no one sees. None of this was a surprise to me. I knew how almost all of it would play out from the first shot fired in the first 10 minutes. Koba or Doubting Thomas were going to start the inevitable war.
Caeser and Malcolm represent the calmer, peace lovers when everyone else is an over-the-top, two-dimensional hate monger. Things go bad, because you know they must, as Koba goes on a killing rampage, after locking up the good apes. But oh no, the leader is dead and only he can stop this madness. But guess what, he’s not dead. When the killing rampage began I tuned partly out and started playing solitaire. (Queue predictable killing sequence.)
Koba ends us killing Ash, Blue Eyes’ friend while Blue Eyes stands and watches with those big sad doe eyes. And Ash doesn’t really fight back at all. It’s the same thing that Frodo did in LOTR and it drove me nuts. Too much standing around and emoting with big, liquidy eyes. Do something!
Dreyfus has his last rally and is willing to kill all the humans (like Koba killing the apes) because of some weirdness that’s never clear. The apes can’t have the tower. So what? So he blows it sky high, along with himself. But while the good guys rally, the end is near and war will ensue, and away we go. Next, more Planet of the Apes remakes. Please please please, try to get a plot that’s half way original and not so predictable.
Overall, besides the awesome special effects, the plot was snoresville. I give this only two slippery banana peels.