In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes suggested a few questions that the Tim Burton remake The Planet of the Apes completely omitted: we do not understand exactly how intelligent Apes are and to discredit our evolutionary ancestors is to make a mistake. A human shot and killed an ape that they believed to be out of control. As it turned out, it was merely protecting its baby, the very ape that would go on to become Caesar.
Can apes and humans live harmoniously, despite the odds? This is the question asked by director Matt Reeves in his latest, the third addition to the new Planet of the Apes reboot, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (To prevent reader fatigue, let’s refer to each film by its first word from here.)
Reeves adds his vision to the glowing franchise seamlessly. Having previously directed 2008’s Cloverfield (and the Let Me In remake), Dawn is a highly entertaining piece that investigates further what exactly is Caesar’s priorities and ideals and are they a threat to humanity?
And so begins the question, or threat, of war that centres Dawn. It’s not a black and white, us versus them issue – things are far more complicated than that. Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, a far more appealing hero than too-cool-for-school James Franco, quickly becomes the precipice of the question, shouting for peace from both sides of future attrition. He is firmly stuck in the middle, acting as a peace agent in order to gain access – and Caesar’s trust – to a dam that is within the apes’ living grounds. Dreyfus and company need this dam to be powered up, lest fuel supplies run out in two weeks and they all perish.
“They’re animals!” is the catchcry of the opposition, shouted by Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, a mild-mannered gentleman that one imagines would have worked in loan approvals before the virus hit. His family has been killed by way of the virus that apes – and some humans, such as him – are immune to. That these apes possess an intelligence level not too dissimilar to the average human is a legend he steadfastly refuses to accept as gospel. Given the circumstances it’s perfectly understandable but their next decision to kill the apes is even more convoluted.
To speak further on it risks spoiling a great deal of the film. What makes Dawn so great is the unclear line, the huge bubbling mass of grey area: there is no clear strikethrough villain. Both Dreyfus and Caesar have their good and bad, their understanding and their capacity for evil. It’s an action film without the obvious clues; gone are the lines advising the viewer what just happened for the umpteenth time.
Caesar is not the result of evil wrongdoings. He is the byproduct of a drug that one man hoped, and thought, would cure Alzheimer’s. Will Rodman used this drug on Caesar in a I’ll-continue-my-research-in-my-own-way method of approach and when his father faltered despite promising signs after the drug was first administered, Caesar went from strength to strength. Hell, a rock wall has a brief list of instructions that act like the Ten Commandments, with the first line reading Ape not kill ape. Their language and communication is incredibly limited but it grows with each passing day.
The latest in the Apes series is the best yet. Caesar is our greatest hero and villain of recent times, playing off the strengths and weaknesses of humanity with ease. A great deal of this film inspires hours if not days of discussion and it will be watched and rewatched for years to come.
[rating=4] and a half
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire