I was 5 years old when the original Planet of The Apes was released in 1968, so it took me a few years to catch up with the movie, when the film and it sequels were first being shown on CBS. Growing up a science-fiction, horror & monster story loving kid, I couldn’t wait to see these films. I instantly became a fan. Later the Apes movies became a staple of afternoon TV showings; remember “Apes Week” on the ABC 4:30 Movie in the New York area? Short lived animated & live action TV series were also spun off from the original, and “Apes” related items & toys were all the rage in the 1970s. In those pre Star Wars days, the Apes films were one of the first heavily merchandised sci-fi properties, and the series continues to have a loyal fan base. It was only a matter of time before the story was revived. Director Tim Burton tried his best with a 2001 remake that failed with both fans & critics. After that misfire, it took some time for the Apes saga to return to our movies screens.
Then in 2011, director Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of The Planet of the Apes was released. Written by Rick Jaffe & Amanda Silver, it‘s a well-made update of the Apes concept. The movie follows scientist Will Rodman’s search to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The serum he comes up with gives his simian test subjects (especially an ape named Caesar, whom he adopts) enhanced intelligence. Of course, nothing ends up going the way Rodman imagined. The film concludes with Caesar leading a group of hyper-intelligent simians into the woods outside San Francisco, while a mysterious virus had begun spreading across the world. The movie was a success, and featured multiple tributes to the original series for fans, while still carving out a new spin on the story. The ending clearly left the door open for a sequel that could expand on this version of the saga.
The story continues with the recently released Dawn of The Planet of the Apes. It’s 10 years after the events of Rise, and the virus has wiped out most of humanity. The intelligent apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) are living peacefully in the woods, and have started their one society. Meanwhile, some human survivors struggle to get by in San Francisco. The two groups clash when a scouting party heads into the woods to see if they can repair a hydroelectric dam and restart the city's power grid. Caesar’s lieutenant, a violent ape named Koba, distrusts the humans and wants to eliminate them. Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leader of the scouting party, convinces Caesar humans can be trusted, and they will do their repairs and leave the apes in peace. He & Caesar begin a tentative friendship. But Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the leader of the humans, may not share Malcolm’s peaceful intentions. He blames the apes for the loss of his family during the outbreak of the virus, and its aftermath. And the militant Koba has his own (self-benefitting) plans for creating conflict between the two groups.
There are some great action sequences & some jaw dropping use of CGI that’s well-integrated into the film. Andy (Gollum from Lord of The Rings) Serkis & the others who perform the motion capture for the ape characters are excellent. The human actors, including Clarke, Oldman, and Keri Russell are fine in their roles, but in this film, they’re almost the supporting characters. The apes & their world are so fully realized in this visually stunning film that it’s nothing short of amazing. Director Matt Reeves & his crew have done an outstanding job. The script this time is by Jaffa & Silver, returning from the first film, co-writing with Mark Bombeck. There are a couple of nods to the classic film series, including snatches of dialogue & some cues in Michael Giacchino's score that recall previous music in the original series by Jerry Goldsmith & Leonard Rosenman.
Like the original films, the movie holds up a mirror to issues that are going on in society today. The movie wraps its social & political commentary around an entertaining story. There are no clear-cut villain here, among the humans or the apes, though there are deluded & selfish characters on both sides of this conflict. While the “end” of civilization has different causes in this version of the story, man’s pride & inhumanity to himself is still part of his downfall. The movie ends on an ambigious note, setting things up for another chapter in the series, but the future of humanity (and the apes) is definitely uncertain. I’ve stayed vague on the plot details so as not to spoil it for fans who haven’t seen the film yet. If you’re a fan of the Apes saga, you’ll enjoy Dawn of The Planet of the Apes. As with the best chapters of the original series, this is thought-provoking, well produced science-fiction storytelling. The movie is currently in theaters. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sHMCRaS3ao.