The latest chapter of the rebooted Planet of the Apes series has been hailed as the ultimate summer blockbuster of 2014 – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes boasts lots of action, expensive CGI and even a 3D version.
As a long-time fan of all things Ape, it pains me to say this movie disappointed me. While Rise of the Planet of the Apes was clever, moving, and sometimes even funny, its sequel is really none of those to any noticeable extent.
[Spoilers beyond this point]
Perhaps this is the most challenging episode in the saga to tell – as the ape society takes shape and faces a ‘final'(?) battle with humans for supremacy. Indeed, its equivalent in the original cycle of the 1960s and ’70s, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, is widely regarded as the weakest episode. But that is largely due to its small budget, and laughably modest “battle” scenes, leading to its being dubbed Battle for the Village of the Apes.
Its modern counterpart is on a much grander scale, but still we are encouraged to accept that this local battle somehow determines the fate of the planet. I’m not going to join the quibblers who point out there is no hydro-electric dam to the north of the Golden Gate Bridge, nor is there a river to enable one; nor is there a forest there anyway.
I will, however, quibble over how these two – ape and human – societies, apparently living just a few miles apart for 10 years were unaware of each other. Surely, at some time, the apes would have wandered back into the city from which they’d come to scavenge or just out of curiosity. We know they’ve seen humans in the past, but never bothered to find their home?
It’s true there are plenty of redeeming features: some excellent performances (famously Andy Serkis under the CGI effects as Caeser, and crikey is that another Brit, Gary Oldman as his human counterpart, rallying his people with his megaphone and specs?), the CGI is impressive, and there are some clever aspects of the story – the parallels of the two (ape and human) families, for instance, and the painfully inevitable descent into war that we’ve seen in the real world all too often.
But really there’s not much to sustain a feature film here, and what little there is may disappoint. In the original (and I mean original original) film, Planet of the Apes (1968) and the novel on which it was based, La Planete des Singes, the main ape character is a female – Zira, the intelligent, resourceful, scientist. Here we are, 46 years later, and the female apes do nothing except reproduce. Caesar, the supposedly super-smart chimp, has created a macho society, run by males, with decisions determined by shouting, chest-beating and fighting.
If you’re an Apes fan like me, you’ll want to watch this, and you probably should. If you’re new to Ape-ness, however, I’d recommend you save your ticket money and buy a second-hand box-set of the original five movies, or even the prematurely-curtailed TV series of the ’70s. You won’t find any CGI or 3D effects, but you’ll find thoughtful stories about race, peace and relationships, and you’ll be thoroughly entertained too.