Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-- A movie review

The American movie industry is a scared little creature these days who has found relative safety in churning out a constant stream of sequels, prequels, reboots, and simple remakes of film ideas that have already made them money. I'll be charitable and say most of them are mediocre efforts, the new “Star Trek” and Spider-man films quickly come to mind as prime examples. Exceptions do exist in the form of the Dark Knight films done by Christopher Nolan, which on a side note, means Ben Affleck is pretty much screwed. I admit, I've never been a fan of his to begin with, but when you have to follow the acting efforts of Christian Bale he'd better hope most people stay preoccupied with the new guy playing Superman.

Be that as it may, the rule of reboots being lackluster was definitely broken with the release of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” three years ago. For those who don't know the producers and director of that movie took the tired and now campy 1970's Apes franchise and updated to the point that you got an intellectual examination on animal experimentation, unrestrained capitalism, and simple human folly.

The movie in the nutshell has to do with a genetic researcher, played by James Franco, who is desperate to cure his father's advancing Alzheimer's. Franco's character develops a possible cure in the form of a genetically engineered virus and tests it on chimpanzees who all show significant advances in intelligence. The carefully controlled environs of the lab are violated when one of the chimps escapes its cage and goes on a rampage throughout the corporate headquarters only to be shot dead in front of all the company bigwigs.

Since the corporate suits are traumatized by the experience, Franco's boss orders all the chimps put down. The flunky hired to look after the chimps compiles but refuses to “put down” the last one, a newborn infant who Franco reluctantly takes home. Franco's character not only comes to love the baby chimp, who his father names Caesar, but sneaks home some of his experimental cure to use on his dad.

Several years go by with Frano's dad successfully being treated and with Caesar becoming part of the family. During this time Franco's character discovers that Caesar has been brought to at least human level intelligence and that the enhancement has been incorporated into his genes meaning it will be passed down to his offspring. The trouble starts as when the dad's Alzheimer's comes roaring back and the adolescent Caesar gets in trouble with the next door neighbor with the police being called.

With his dad becoming ill again, Franco's character develops an even stronger version of the virus while Caesar is tossed inside a rundown zoo-like facility with other apes. Caesar quickly adapts and becomes the dominate male in the facility, only to eventually escape and find the stronger version of the virus back at home. After stealing several containers. Caesar returns to the facility to infect his hairy buddies and bring them up to his intelligence.

These enhanced apes rebel and escape into San Francisco being chased by the police. The climatic battle takes place on the Golden Gate Bridge with the apes victorious and finding refuge in Muir Woods National Monument. Now the humans soon end up with greater concerns than enhanced apes loose in the forest. See, the stronger version of the Alzheimer's cure becomes an extremely lethal flu-like pandemic killing off most of the human population throughout the world. Setting the stage for the next movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes----Warning, there are spoilers ahead

Ten years have passed since the last movie with Caesar and his tribe doing quite well where we last saw them. They have built their own settlement and are well on their way to creating a distinct culture. As for the humans, civilization has fallen with the apes actually believing they might be extinct.

This is where a couple of apes encounter a small party of humans making their way to an abandoned hydroelectric dam in hopes of using it to return electricity to the small, fort-like part of San Francisco they now live. Of course one of the humans is an idiot and automatically pulls out his revolver the second he sees the apes. One of the apes is shot while the rest of the small band of humans are almost killed on sight. Only Caesar stops the angry crowd but promptly tells the humans to get lost and never to return.

Humans being particularly dense they soon return anyway and the movie revolves around Jason Clarke's character and Caesar trying to avoid war and build a fragile peace between the two groups. The humans, typified by Gary Oldman's character believes the apes are “just animals” and wants nothing more than to exterminate them with leftover National Guard weapons. This is where the movie gets complex, because one of the apes is just as blinded by ignorance and hate as Oldman's character. The ape's name is Koba and he is a survivor of years of human experimentation that in truth was more torture than science. Koba carries a huge grudge against humans and after Clarke's character and Caesar begin to build some trust, plots to kill the latter and then get revenge on all the plague survivors in San Francisco.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is awash with symbolism that I sincerely hope most people got, but it essentially boils down to the idea that individuals of honor, intelligence and understanding exist in all groups. But most of the time these good people are overwhelmed by those that represent the worst aspects of human behavior like ignorance, apathy, and hate.

It doesn't take an expert in anthropology to understand the world of 2014 is being destroyed by those like Oldman's character and the abused Koba. The greatest challenge we face in this era is not preventing nuclear war or even halting human caused climate change. No, what will decide the fate of all humanity is whether or not good people can overpower those who wallow in abject ignorance and hate. I'd like to write some hopeful words that we can do just that, but right now it's not looking good. It seems that most nations and peoples still live by the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" rule.

Still though, I highly recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it is a truly awesome movie, well worth your time and money.


Pixel Peeper said...

I haven't seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but I'll have to check Amazon's lineup; they may have it. This sounds interesting. I guess I didn't pay attention to these movies because they reminded me that the original, 70's movies were so...well, campy. And then I'll have to see the new release, too!

And here I thought you were going to Riverbanks Zoo... :-)

Cloudia said...

Thanks, Bro

ALOHA from Honolulu
=^..^= <3

Life As I Know It Now said...

Good review BB. And I may actually check it out as I think our library has it.

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: It actually surprised me how good the initial reboot was done.

Cloudia: No problem!

Life As I Know It Now: You'll enjoy it!

joeh said...

Interesting. I was looking forward to the second "Ape" movie as I thought the first was really good.

I was disappointed in this one, I though it kind of slow and dull. I was hoping they would take it in a different direction to somehow morph into the original POTA movies.

Anyway, it was good but not great, the special effects excellent but these days I take those for granite.

Obviously others saw it differently. Maybe I'll watch again when it hits cable.

Beach Bum said...

Joeh: I agree, it was a little slow. The reason I liked it so much though was how it showed the faults in both apes and humans. Given the the religious and nationalistic conflicts that we watch on the news every night "Dawn" was a great metaphor and how each side seeks to make the other some evil, unthinking monster.