By the time we arrive at the third installment of a trilogy, I usually think the whole concept has “jumped the shark.” I found 2001’s reboot of Planet of the Apes supremely underwhelming, failing to live up to the intriguing, subtle social commentary of the Charlton Heston (The Order) original. I don’t think it was a hit with audiences either, and maybe that’s why it was ten years before someone thought to make a sequel, giving us 2011’s effective installment featuring James Franco (This Is the End). The trailer for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes promised a shift in storytelling, and since the second edition was entertaining, I was fairly optimistic.
Dawn opens in a post apocalyptic future, where a simian flu has ravaged the planet. Juxtaposed with this doomsday scenario is a bleak forecast whereby apes have evolved higher than what could’ve been imagined – thanks to man’s insatiable need to take technology past its moral end. Years of primate experiments have created a highly intelligent species of ape. The dwindling human population coupled with the rise of the apes has shifted the balance of power between species, with humans trying to restore the power grid after most of the world has been wiped out. A sizable community of apes have established themselves in the outskirts of San Francisco, living perhaps as early humans once did.
Their establishment of a moral code evinces their keen intelligence, serving as a fascinating sociological exercise in evolution and development. We met Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) in the last Apes movie, and he is featured again in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the unquestionable leader of his tribe. He is everything one would desire in a leader, human or otherwise. He is patient, slow to anger, and governed by a sense of right and wrong. When a small band of human survivors surprisingly confronts the apes, Caesar reacts with prudence rather than fear. This puts him at odds with the other apes, namely best friend and secret nemesis Koba (Tony Kebbell, The Counselor), an ape that lacks Caesar’s favorable impression of mankind.
Circumstances dictate that humans and apes collide when it becomes clear that man needs the resources of Caesar’s territory to ensure its survival. Thus the stage is set for a standoff of Darwinian proportions. Malcolm (Jason Clarke, White House Down) compassionately leads the human explorers, but he answers to Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises) who is much more skeptical about the possibility of striking a peaceful understanding with the apes. With a nod to the jingoism and xenophobia of the current climate, the film depicts the fear we as humans (read: Americans) harbor toward those that are different from us.
While the movie was somewhat predictable in its story arc, I appreciated the parallel between Caesar and Shakespeare’s Caesar, as well as the humanization of these computer-generated characters. There was obviously a conscious shift in storytelling to feature the perspective of the apes more centrally, foregoing the human outlook and aligning the viewer with Caesar from the outset. Who can deny man’s incessant need to assert his dominance over others? History alone has taught us this. I found Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be vastly entertaining, and in a sea of heretofore summer mediocrity, it stands out as worthwhile summertime fare – at least for now. Grade: B+
This article first appeared at Poptimal and was reprinted with permission.