‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:’ And of Every Story Ever

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is every story. It’s every movie ever made, every book ever written about family, betrayal, politics, zombies, race, gun control…and apes. Not only is it Planet of the Apes, it’s The Lion King (complete with a villainous traitor with a scar over one eye), it’s Julius Caesar (complete with one hell of a stab in the back), it’s a little bit Felicity (complete with a brooding Keri Russell), and yes, it’s even a touch of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, paralleling itself, with similar characters and interpersonal struggles on both the ape and human sides of the story. I guess we aren’t really that different after all, huh….. It’s entirely predictable, preachy, and platitudinous (definitely looked that one up), yet harmlessly so. Because of its retro earnestness, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remains entertaining and fun, even if it “apes” itself as well as many of our most classic stories (nailed it).

In this iteration, Planet Earth has fallen due to an epidemic of simian flu, which has wiped out nearly the entire human population (but not everyone!!!). A group of humans that are genetically immune to the disease live in the ruins of San Francisco, but they are slowly running out of power. A small group, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke), heads into the woods to repair a dam that, when fixed, will make electricity work, because, science. Malcolm and his group of dam repairers don’t realize, however, that they are headed straight into ape territory, a veritable metropolis of monkeys (I know they’re apes, not monkeys…the things we do for alliteration) led by Caesar, an intelligent, compassionate ape with a soft spot for keeping the peace, even if it means working with those pesky, intruding people.

Caesar’s right hand man is a more embittered ape, Koba, who was captured, tortured, and scarred by humans for a lot of his life. He’s got a justifiable chip on his shoulder, which makes his villainous turn a teensy bit sympathetic, a little less black and white, even though it’s obviously not these innocent, wide-eyed, good humans that deserve to be attacked. Much to the chagrin of Koba and his followers, Caesar agrees to let the humans come do their work on the dam. They tread lightly around each other for much of this time, the key word “trust” being a thing that’s difficult for both sides to earn.

Then, the tense but amicable developing relationship between human and ape is swiftly destroyed by one heck of a misunderstanding, and what proceeds is all out war. It becomes clear early on that the real evil, the thing that causes the most problems in this world, is the existence of guns. There’s a lot of character development and miscommunication that results in bad situations in this movie, but the one thing that remains 100% clear is that bullets are no good. Ever. Guns are unequivocally bad. Hear that, middle American NRA Republicans? Bad. As in, not good.

Andy Serkis, the king of virtual acting, plays Caesar with great dignity. Jason Clarke is solid, Keri Russell is Felicity, and Gary Oldman, who plays the other founder of the human camp, the Shawn Hunter to Jason Clarke’s Cory Matthews, if you will, plays, as we’ve recently discovered, his crazy old self. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a heavy-handed sci-fi epic in a most traditional sense. The morals of the story are more than clear. Characters learn their lessons, then tell the audience exactly what they’ve learned. It’s all-encompassing in kind of a magnificent way. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes marks a return of that vintage attitude of telling big, unambiguous tales in a larger-than-life way. It’s old-school and impressive. You know what’s bad though? Guns. Guns are bad.

Grade: B+

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