Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes comes out today, and if you like action movies that are performed exclusively by monkeys, you’re gonna love this. If you were hoping for genuine inter-species moments, you’ll have to look very closely for them in between the indiscriminate carnage and gratuitous violence. Sorry.
As far as how this fits into the whole Planet Of The Apes franchise, it comes after The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and it has many of the same ape characters, something we’re reminded of about three-quarters of the way through the movie, when we’re presented with a photo of James Franco grinning lovingly at Caesar, now the apes’ leader.
But if you were hoping for more sun-dappled moments like that one in this movie, you’re going to be sadly mistaken. The cast is very strong, led by Jason Clarke and the always-impeccable Andy Serkis, but this film is basically an ultra-violent action movie with most of the roles played by monkeys. Which I found pretty tough to watch, if I’m being honest with you. They spend all this time with backstory drawing the apes as intelligent, empathetic, emotional characters, and then make you watch as they try to murder each other and everyone around them.
The story is set up as a culture clash between these genetically-evolved apes and a band of human survivors of the virus that devastated their population a decade earlier. Each group lives in isolation and peace, but only because their paths have never crossed before. When they do, it’s an all-out war.
The movie is rated PG-13, though, so they don’t show a ton of violence against humans (at least not head-on), but they certainly don’t hold back when it’s ape-on-ape, which for me was no less stomach-turning, particularly because these particular primates were also brandishing automatic weaponry.
I’m already of the opinion that there are too many guns in movies, and that they aren’t treated with the respect that a tiny machine that could kill you deserves, but it’s particularly egregious in this film. Something about an ape pistol-whipping another ape with the handle of a machine gun was a little too much for me, especially when images like that were repeated ad nauseum through the film and bear such a chilling similarity to our nation’s own treatment of native peoples in our troubling history.
I’m fully aware that I’m reading more into the movie than it creators likely intended, but it was almost impossible to avoid. Over and over again, the movie’s antagonists reminded us that the apes are “just animals” when they inadvertently stood in the way of something that the humans needed for survival. They need to be exterminated so that we can live the way we want. We have to destroy their way of life in order to further ours, and if that means waving a gun at a baby chimpanzee that two seconds ago was nuzzling Keri Russell‘s braid, then so be it.
And don’t hold out for anyone to learn a lesson, either. After two-plus hours of watching two cultures try to pummel each other into extinction, the only real moral is “don’t try, it doesn’t matter, peace can’t work.”As an audience member, I found it not only jarring but just plain exhausting.
But hey, maybe you’ll see the movie and love every minute of it. Because what’s more fun than a chimpanzee on horseback double-fisting machine guns?