Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Opened: July 11, 2014
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis, Monkeys
See it: You secretly like monkeys more than people • You need your summer movies to have more moral commentary than just "Decepticons: Bad, Autobots: Good" • You like movies where Gary Oldman steals the show • You like fantasy movies where Andy Serkis steals the show • You've been missing Keri Russell
Don't See it: Language • Standard bloodless Blockbuster violence • Post-apocalyptic hopelessness • You've seen one too many monkey movies • You don't miss Keri Russell • You'd rather see a Ford turn into a fire-breathing dinosaur
YOU MADE A MONKEY OUT OF ME
This clip mixes a famous Simpsons moment– mocking "The Planet of the Apes" if it were made into a musical– with a scene from Mad Men where Don Draper takes his son to the movies. It's all I could think about when I was watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" is the smartest film I saw this summer. Combining classic storytelling elements with excellent CGI and great pacing, and it's a film which stays with you and makes you think long after you've left the theatre.
I have no desire to discuss "Creationism vs. Evolution" here in this review, but I will confess that my views on the matter are... *ahem*... evolving.
Those Dang Dirty Apes
Apes have been a longstanding foil for humanity in popular culture. You don't have to read a biology textbook to see the visual similarities between our species, and this makes for a great cinematic comparison. From the original Planet of the Apes films to these modern incarnations, and from the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey to the legend of King Kong, we use these animals to say important things about human nature on a cultural and personal level. In "Dawn", this metaphor is taken to its furthest extent yet. I found myself rooting for the monkeys.
This movie takes a major narrative risk by spending a great deal of time on the ape community forged after the events of the first film. You either notice how strange this is right away or you don't– but after about twenty minutes comes and goes without a human to be seen, you'll definitely wonder how important the human characters are to this story.
I found the whole thing refreshingly subversive. Why? Because we are far too important in the stories we tell ourselves. The other beings, be they elves or Autobots or vampires with a thing for teenagers, always stay at the periphery of our motivations and intentions. In our space films, we exceed the alien races we imagine for our stories because of our "human spirit", we survive the mindless hoards of zombies with our determination, and we inspire otherworldly creatures with our optimism or compassion.
But what if we could see the human race more objectively? What if we could understand ourselves in the reflection of a new species struggling to define themselves?
This movie questioned the very nature of evil by introducing us to a new kind of humanity in these apes who have, since the last film, begun to wrestle with the nature of their own souls. They are forming their own community and deciding what it means to be truly "ape", I suppose– and in doing so, this fictional story puts a new spin on some very old, very big questions.
Are we inherently good, or evil?
Can we create communities of peace without violence? Or is the rule of violence the only necessary way to create peaceful communities?
In the Bible, the first story after the Fall of Adam and Eve is the account of how Cain killed his brother Abel and set up the first human city shortly afterwards. If we want to examine the issues of our day, and make our cities and nations into better places, we're going to have to talk about violence and oppression. And we're also going to have to question where evil originates from in the first place.
Sometimes it takes a good trip to the movies to ask us, "what makes us different from the apes?"