Eye On Film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The summer seems like the preferred season for the release of sequels. Next up is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Starring, Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman, the film takes place 10 years after the events that took place in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  In the first offering, the genetically-altered apes escaped their laboratory and skittered across the Golden Gate Bridge, away from humankind. Infected with a virus that was meant to treat Alzheimer’s disease, a careless lab worker is cross-contaminated and the virus instead proves to be fatal to humans. 

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, humanity has been reduced to a handful of survivors struggling to maintain some sense of civilization in whatever manner they can. While the population of genetically-altered apes have created a societal hierarchy for themselves with Caesar, played by Serkis, acting as their leader and patriarchal figure.  As is the case in real life, there are hawks on both sides – Ape and man – who would like nothing better than to see his opposite number wiped off the face of the Earth. On the human side it’s Dreyfus, a former military officer who is played by Gary Oldman, and on the simian side there is Koba, a scarred chimpanzee who acts as Caesar’s defacto right hand.  Things between the communities are peaceful for a short while, but human naiveté and stupidity leads to hatred and distrust on both sides and this tenuous coexistence eventually comes to a violent upheaval.

As was the case with the initial Planet of the Apes franchise that premiered back in the 1960s, the reboot in 2001, as well as the beginning of the third reimagining of the series back in 2011, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes raises the age old question of what it means to be human and what it means to be an animal.  

Evolutionary scientist believe that animals evolve to fill a niche in their respective environments when given the window to take advantage of it.  They believe this is what happened with mammals at the end of the age of the dinosaurs.  In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, when the Simian virus wiped out most of the human race the advanced apes have the opportunity to fill the void left by mankind as the apex predator. But this isn’t lost on humans who see them as an immediate threat. Though the humans know that the apes are intelligent enough to speak, it seems as if they constantly underestimate them throughout the film and are made to suffer because of it.  Perhaps that is meant to signify the unmitigated confidence of man to defeat all non-human threat or maybe it is an instance of human stupidity being used as a plot device. Is it a weathered trope or a real human trait? One cannot readily say, but it does serve to drive the film forward. 

Initially, the film spent too much time showing how civilized the apes are compared to men. Though Keri Russell was great in her role as Ellie, her true purpose in the film is lost.  Generally speaking, love interests in sci-fi are wasted attempts at tugging on the heart strings of viewers.  However, people don’t normally go to such films to see a love story.  They want to be amazed by special effects and explosions, which Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has plenty of.

Big on suspension of disbelief, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes succeeds in this part, but the one significantly eye-rolling aspect of the film comes in the ape attacks and seeing them become instant experts with automatic weapons. Most human beings wouldn’t be able to readily fire an automatic weapon at moving targets, while on horseback, after the first time they pick up the gun. But genetically altered monkeys can? Whatever. Despite this minor unbelievable detail, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gets high marks for creativity, special effects, cinematography and strong dialogue for a science fiction movie.

The Shadow League gives Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a B+.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters July 11.

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