Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


THERE’S NO MONKEYING around in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The title may indi­cate only an incre­men­tal advance­ment in the global con­quest of our favorite ram­pag­ing simi­ans, if any, from 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes—how many more syn­ony­mously monikered install­ments must we be com­pelled to watch before the the­saurus is milked dry, I wonder?—but make no mis­take, James Franco and the sun­shine of San Fran­cisco is long gone. This plot of this spec­tac­u­larly grim and sur­pris­ingly vio­lent movie ulti­mately cul­mi­nates in ide­o­log­i­cally extrem­ist apes orches­trat­ing the death of the wise, paci­fist Cae­sar (played once again bril­liantly by Andy Serkis), who has led a thriv­ing iso­la­tion­ist com­mu­nity in the Muir Woods,  in order to insti­gate unmit­i­gated war­fare against one of the last remain­ing bas­tions of human civ­i­liza­tion.  If you’re think to your­self, “These bad apes sound liked they learned a few tricks from us humans,” con­grat­u­la­tions, for you have seized upon the theme of the movie. And that’s even before you’ve seen a scarred, snarling ape, con­sumed by blood­lust, rid­ing into bat­tle on horse­back while fir­ing assault rifles willy-nilly. All the simian schem­ing and war­fare makes for com­pelling drama, but it’s noth­ing we haven’t seen before.  Per­haps the some­what hack­neyed unfold­ing of the story, derived from count­less lit­er­ary and his­tor­i­cal sources, was inten­tion­ally made to reflect the human­iza­tion of the apes. Per­haps it serves to rein­force, sub­tly and per­va­sively, the dis­heart­en­ing real­iza­tion of Caesar’s that his apes are not so unlike the humans they are pit­ted against, that they go through the same strug­gles, the same joy, the same heart­break, the same fra­ter­nal blood­let­ting and betrayal.  If this is what the film­mak­ers intended, then they should have fig­ured out that you don’t need apes act­ing out lack­lus­ter melo­drama in order to effec­tively con­vey their human­ism. Any­how, I sus­pect some­thing else: lazi­ness. Not that it matters—the audi­ence, for now, doesn’t notice the banal­ity because they are still struck by the rel­a­tive nov­elty of see­ing emo­tion­ally iden­ti­fi­able apes, thanks to the vir­tu­os­ity of the spe­cial effects and the mar­velous act­ing efforts of Serkis and the rest of the cast.  But that lazi­ness, if pre­served, has the poten­tial to rear its ugly head to much more inaus­pi­cious con­se­quences. As is seen in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the human ele­ments of the story are slowly dimin­ish­ing in impor­tance, which opens the door to, among other things, an all-ape cast. We cer­tainly don’t want a bunch of tal­ented actors hoot­ing and hol­ler­ing away under motion-capture suits in an unin­spired all-ape inter­pre­ta­tion of, say, Cori­olanus. Or do we? B