Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) — No monkey business this time around

“Apes not kill apes.”

Justin’s rating: I like every ape I see, from chimpan-a to chimpan-zee!

Justin’s review: I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise, although I appreciate the rich field of pop culture references that it’s given to us. Yet after seeing director Matt Reeves’ star rise with The Batman and remembering that I kind of liked the first of the reboots, I thought it was probably time to visit Reeves’ two entries in this incredibly successful series.

Today we’ll take a look at Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which has one too many “of the” in the title for my liking. It’s been a decade or so since a bunch of highly intelligent primates escaped from labs and an accidentally engineered super-virus ravaged mankind. This tipped the odds enough in the favor for the apes to rise in prominence even as mankind heads off stage left.

This doesn’t mean that all of the apes have everything sorted out just yet and are ready to take stewardship of the planet. They’re existing as a hunting tribe in the woods led by Caesar (Andy Serkis, doing yet another incredible mo-cap role). They do have a pretty boss city with a nice woodpunk design.

So what we have here is a delicate seesaw of the apocalypse. The apes and humans are in roughly equal number (at least the local humans, as we don’t know what the Australian or Korean survivors are doing), and while the humans have a whole lot of technology and guns on their side, the apes are pretty dang smart, can swing on trees, and can probably rip your head clean off your body if you give one cause.

While these two populations should have remained apart, conflict begins to brew as the San Francisco humans (which sounds like a football team) need the apes’ permission to fix a dam and restart power in the area.

The movie sets this problem up like it’s an unavoidable conflict between man and beast, but, c’mon, it’s really not in the slightest. The apes at this point are only a single tribe of maybe a few hundred located outside of San Fran in a forest. They want that area? Fine, they can have it. There’s the rest of the world for humanity’s survivors to pack up and go settle.

And the notion that this dam is the only way to power up the settlement is ridiculous anyway. There are other ways to get power, and hydroelectrical generators aren’t probably the best way to go with a limited population that can’t stay at the dam to monitor and operate it. Grab some solar panels, a few wind turbines, and call it a day.

But no, the humans decide that if they can’t convince the apes to let them at the dam in three days, there’s going to be an all-out war. So Malcolm (that skeevy guy who played Evil John Connor in Terminator Genisys) and his family make the effort to reach out and do a bit of human-primate diplomacy. Both sides are cautiously open to the cooperation, but at no point does this movie let you forget that it could all fall apart in a moment.

That’s the tension that drives Rise of the Planet of the Apes — the pause before the other shoe drops and everything goes FUBAR. Because, c’mon, we know it’s going to happen. The interesting part is the journey that both the humans and the apes take to realize about themselves and the other side.

The major accomplishment of this film is creating an ape population that are far more interesting than the human protagonists. Even though my mind boggles with the thought of how much CGI they had to create here, it’s so naturally realistic that I stopped thinking of it as special effects early on. The apes are fascinating to watch with their travel, sign language, and various factions. They’re also fierce, physical beings that project power. I’m pretty OK with them taking over the world in this universe.

I don’t know if this really won me over to the whole Apes franchise, but at least it wasn’t boring.

Didja notice?

  • Bear vs. ape
  • You better know sign language before you come into this flick
  • Apes riding horses will never not be weird
  • Apes sit in a very organized manner when the computer program calls for it
  • The raspberry, that was funny
  • Those apes have a whole lot of fires in their all-flammable wood city

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