Why has the Planet of the Apes franchise endured in popular culture for the best part of 50 years? Maybe it's simply that apes, as symbols, are so remarkably versatile. They can be cute, savage or noble: they can represent tortured innocence, the bestial side of humanity and everything in between.
|Title||Dawn of the Planet of the Apes|
|Screenwriter||Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback|
|Actors||Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, Andy Serkis, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee|
A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.
Released in 1968, the original Planet of the Apes drew much of its unacknowledged meaning from the context of the civil rights struggle. Depending how you looked at it, the prequel to this latest offering, Rupert Wyatt's 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was either a prophetic vision of the fall of the First World or an environmentalist statement where Nature herself threatened revenge for centuries of ill-treatment.
In this follow-up, that revenge has already occurred, via a virus that has drastically boosted ape intelligence while killing off most of the human race. In the aftermath, we follow the fortunes of two oddly similar patriarchal tribes: former lab chimp Caesar (''played'' by a digitally-recreated Andy Serkis) is now king of the forest, while the film's human protagonist Malcolm (Australian Jason Clarke from Zero Dark Thirty) is part of a group of survivors scratching out a living in the ruins of nearby San Francisco, led by the ape-despising Dreyfus (Gary Oldman).
The series itself has evolved, and not entirely to its benefit. Where Rise had a B-movie brio, Dawn is more self-consciously serious, as if aiming to elevate innately trashy material. The camera movements are statelier, the palette darker, with much of the action taking place at night. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is yet another loyal disciple of Steven Spielberg, bent on making the viewer gasp in awe: he's fond of elaborate deep-focus shots – especially effective in 3D – with dozens of apes half-hidden in the shadows.
As entertainment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is impeccably crafted and often spectacular. Yet conceptually it's never as interesting or provocative as it could have been, especially compared to its predecessor, which portrayed humans – even seemingly nice guys such as the scientist played by James Franco – as arrogant overreachers deserving their comeuppance.
Here, the good guys are moderates like Caesar and Malcolm who believe in mutual understanding between species, while the villains are those who try to stir up trouble. There may be something to be said for this pacifist stance but it seems a little hypocritical, since the whole thrust of the film is to get us eagerly anticipating the next bout of ape-versus-human mayhem.