‘I’ ON CULTURE
If you think that the new movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is simply a sequel, you are in for a surprise. Just as another superior sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, struck new ground in the Star Wars series by turning from a simple story of heroism into a darker family political drama, the new movie breaks new ground in the series. Unlike the numerous sequels of yesteryear where people in gorilla costumes played out simplistic stories, this new film deals with ambition, raw power and how it can corrupt.
The movie does not simply go on from the end of the first film in the series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Since that time, a massive plague — the one created by people that increased the intelligence of the apes — has wiped out most humans. Only one in 500 is immune, and a lot of that group wound up dead in riots. We are a race quickly eroding. So it is the apes that move to the center stage, with one of the main issues being what they will do with the humans and how they will treat them. This is a socially conscious movie that deals with difficult issues but makes certain they do not get in the way of either the action or the drama.
In some ways, the problems between the species resemble some of our more intractable political problems, with no seemingly effective way to resolve issues. Caesar (Andy Serkis) has created a strong ape culture outside San Francisco based on justice and the idea that “apes do not kill apes.” A handful of humans come upon them looking to find a dam that needs repair in order to have power inside the city, and then the problems begin. The movie combines a real political discussion mixed with strong drama and all the action any one of us could want. But most of the key participants are the apes. The humans are there, as a point of discussion, and they do take part in some of the action, but it is the apes at the center of the action.
As before, Caesar is the leader, a strong and decent one. However, his key assistant Koba (Toby Kebbell) is deeply conflicted and filled with hate toward humans because of his treatment when he was a lab animal. Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are many among the leftover humans who can hate just as readily, particularly those led by Gary Oldman. This film metaphorically could represent many seemingly never-solved human issues. Clearly, the intent of the writers and director is to create a sense of urgency about peace. But, wisely, they point to the problems as part of an overall action film instead of providing long, preachy speeches about the need for cooperation between opponents.
The acting, particularly by Sirkis and Kebbell, is extraordinary. Of course, there is plenty of computer graphic magic that turns their work into that of intelligent apes, but the two are stunning.
There has been a controversy about Sirkis and his work ever since he created the role of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises. Some critics think that the motion-capture acting, consisting of heavy-duty stop-action photography of many of the elements of the bodies and features of the characters, is not really acting. Sirkis has been blocked from possible nomination for his performances — a real shame, since his work here probably has been the best I have seen this year. The early series of films used people in ape suits. Here, the apes of all types seem incredibly realistic. And the rest of the visual effects are stunning.
The humans are generally less impressive and, with one exception, have far less to do. Jason Clarke as Malcolm, the one really good guy among the humans, does a creditable job. Oldman, however, plays his role as the leading anti-ape spokesman far too simplistically, with far too little shading. Keri Russell is mostly wasted.
Although this is a summer movie and a sequel, the film works well dramatically. The issues seem very real, even if a bit overly metaphorical.
I highly recommend this movie. It, along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both sequels, are the best movies out. This one is easily worth the cost.