Main cast: Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Andy Serkis (Caesar), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Keri Russell (Ellie), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Karin Konoval (Maurice), and Gary Oldman (Dreyfus)
Director: Matt Reeves
Here’s an excellent reason to feel geriatric: I have lived through the original, reboot, and subsequent reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise that just won’t go away. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the second entry in the second reboot, and so far things aren’t so bad, if you can go along with the hilarious action movie elements that have chimpanzees and gorillas turning into hairy and cute Rambo-wannabes and wielding machine guns like they are starring in a deranged version of The Expendables.
Anyway, in the ten years since the last movie, the ALZ-113 virus has spread across the world, causing the Simian Flu which kills practically every human being that isn’t naturally immune. Today, the remaining humans form scattered colonies, while the intelligent apes under the leadership of Caesar form their own settlement in the San Francisco region. The apes preach about getting along and never killing another ape, because animals are all cute and innocent while humans are murderous pigs, blah blah blah – you know, the usual messages the franchise hammers down the throat all the time.
Trouble begins when the human colony in San Francisco starts to run low on electricity. Our hero Malcolm, his wife Ellie, and Malcolm’s son from a previous marriage Alexander along with some one-dimensional hangers-on set out to the nearby hydroelectric dam to look into repairing it, only to discover that Caesar and his people live in that neighborhood. By the time these two factions meet, one ape has been shot, thanks to the local friendly bigoted squadron member (every movie needs one). As you can imagine, this isn’t a friendly meet-and-greet encounter.
When Malcolm takes the news of Caesar and the talking apes back to the colony leader Dreyfus, Dreyfus advocates them grabbing all the guns and ammo they have – and they have plenty – so that the whole gang can kill all the apes and take back the dam. After all, Dreyfus feels that the apes are just animals. Humans are always bastards like that, you know? Malcolm, however, is the bleeding heart who knows that the apes are special, so he negotiates with Dreyfus for a more peaceful option. He’d go back and talk to the apes, and, hopefully, he can persuade them to agree to let him and his team fix the hydroelectric dam. Humans and apes can then live separately again, without having to fight one another.
Caesar, the rare ape who understands that humans aren’t all evil scumbags, eventually agrees, but one of his lieutenants, Koba, hates all humans because he was once a lab subject. Koba has scars to remind him of the things humans had done to him, and he eventually views Caesar as weak for Caesar’s willingness to parlay with humans. He stages a hostile takeover and attempts to start a war between humans and apes because he is confident that the apes can win.
While the “important messages about humanity” stuff isn’t anything new to anyone who has seen any of these movies in the past, the script conveys them in a manner that is entertaining and, sometimes, thought provoking. That’s pretty impressive considering that this is also a movie where apes wield dual machine guns and can immediately outgun humans who have practiced using them for far longer. Koba can even get into a tank for the first time and still successfully drive it around while blasting away at those scurvy humans. The fact that these apes (even the heavily scarred Koba) all look so cute makes the whole Rambo-gone-wild moments even more deranged and hilarious. And then there is the hilarious showdown between Caesar and Koba, which sees the apes doing their best “I mean business, bitch, SO EAT MY FIST, MOTHERFUCKERS!” impersonation and bitch-smacking the hell out of another. I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down in the theater, but such glorious simian violence is certainly unexpected – and delightful.
The human characters are all pretty one-dimensional, but then again, this movie is all about the apes. Caesar is not the usual pacifist type – when he’s mad, he means business, so it’s not a surprise how he gets the apes to follow him. That guy may seem like Mahatma Ghandi at the surface, but he doesn’t hesitate to smack some sense into those that cross him. He’s the boss, and don’t anyone forget that. Koba starts out a pretty sympathetic villain, although he’s reduced into the token cackling megalomaniac villain as the movie progresses.
I guess I can say that the movie sliding into brainless “apes with machine guns” territory can be considered a weakness, as much of the more intelligent elements of this movie reside in the first half or so, before the apes decide to go Gears of War on everybody. Still, the apes gone amok lead to some hilariously ridiculous moments that I can’t help but to adore, so it’s all good where I am concerned. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is too much fun for words, and it never sags or loses its momentum even once in its two hour plus running time. All things considered, this one is bananas, in a good way too.