Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014): How the Trauma of the Past Can Devour the Future

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” was so close to being the perfect film in the franchise…and after proceeded to destroy that in the last third of the movie with how it handled two of it’s characters. I’ll go into the details of this in the assessment.

First the premise, the premise is that 10 years of passed since the Simian Flu has wiped out most of the human population. The opening actually has the news reports and shows the spread of the virus and decimation of populations. We pick up  with the apes from the last film who have built a civilization in the Redwoods and think humanity is gone, until some survivors appear trying to reach the dam for energy for their city when one of them panics and shoots one of the apes. From here the story unfolds as Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clark) try to build trust…while Koba (Toby Kebbell) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) (both victims of trauma in different ways) have none. From here the story unfolds.

Spoilers ahead

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Inspiration from “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” this movie takes inspiration from Conquest with certain roles traded out. We have Malcolm in the place of McDonald as the human trying to build trust, there is Dreyfus as the Governor Kolp, Koba as General Aldo and in both Caesar has a son and faces the threat from within (Koba) and without (Dreyfus). We see the apes outside of Caesar learning to trust as well with Maurice in the role of Virgil. The story also ends in a battle that sets up the future of “The Planet of the Apes.”

The Special Effects – Are top of the game again. We see details in the facial scans of people playing the apes and the battles sequences are beautiful…though at times a bit too video game like.

Caesar – Andy Serkis is back and his character has grown. We see Caesar the leader who is a bit of a Xenophobe towards humans until Malcolm puts himself at risk in order to show that humans can be trusted…and why the humans need the dam for energy. You see moments where the trust is broken when of his men hides a gun when Caesar’s condition was no weapons…and how it comes back when Caesar realizes apes are the same as humans…that there are good and bad of both. He has great moments with his son Blue Eyes and his wife (and when Malcolm’s wife saves his wife from illness). As well as when he is back in his old home hiding and finds a video of Will (James Franco) and him as a child. It is a tender moment and powerful when he owns up to the fact that in the end it was the apes who started the war and that humanity will not trust them because of it.

Maurice – Maurice, the orangutan from the last movie returns and is teaching the young how to read and the the laws (Ape shall not kill ape). We see him connect with Alexander, Malcolm’s son and Malcolm teaches him how to read. He is also Caesar’s core ally and speaks the most actively against violence, even to the point of defending Alexander.

Blue Eyes – Blue eyes is great. We see him as a follower of Koba initially, until Koba’s heal turn where everyone is a threat who isn’t a loyalist…after that Blue Eyes realizes his father was right all along and helps restore him to power once he learns he is alive.

The Apes – The ape civilization is the highlight of this film. We see complex interactions between them and how they honor each other or show the other has dominance by reaching out their hand with head bowed. They also have a hierarchy based on those closest to Caesar (the ones mentioned from the last film).

Dreyfus – Gary Oldman owns this role. He is complicated and is willing to give Malcolm time to find a peaceful solution, though at the same time he trains his men in case of war. He reminds me a lot of Caesar before Caesar learns that apes are no different from men. We see a man who is a veteran who has experienced trauma and lost his family to the Simian Flu and is doing all he can to keep it together (he breaks down once power is back and he realizes everything he’s lost). He pulls a George Taylor at the end blowing himself up to try and destroy the apes in the building they are on…and you get why he does what he does at each point. He never attacks, only defends. He is an antagonist since at the end he doesn’t trust Malcolm…but he also had no reason to and Malcolm comes off as super naive through most of the film.

The Message – The message was actually real, and great. It clearly showed how trauma can change people and cause distrust and bring out the worst in ourselves. We saw that before Koba jumped the shark to go completely evil and we see that through the eyes of Dreyfus and the other apes. The apes are changed by the trauma of believing themselves under attack and it makes them tools of Koba or in humanity’s case…tools of Dreyfus.

Okay: Koba – Koba could have been a great villain. He had reasons to hate the humans (he was the Bonobo who was experimented on in the last film). We see his distrust here and when he finds humans in the city training with guns. But he loses all credibility when he begins killing his own and arresting those who disagree with him after his assassination attempt on Caesar (which makes sense since Caesar nearly beats him to death). Third act he is arresting those who disagree and when Caesar is back he owns up to nothing…he is just a sociopath and the whole point of trauma ruining good people get’s thrown out the door. He could have been the best baddie…but even Aldo felt guilt.

Malcolm’s family – His new partner Elli and his son Alexander are interesting, just not strong characters. His kid is a blank slate who has some good moments with Maurice but is just there to motivate Malcolm…and his wife Elli heals Caesar’s wife and goes from distrust to trust…but we never see why…beyond Caesar’s baby connecting with them all.

Humanity – After everything shown in the three videos leading up to this movie…I wish we’d gotten more of that. We don’t see how complicated things are in the city or how it works. All we know is Dreyfus and Malcolm created it…it isn’t bad, but there isn’t much there. Would have liked to see more of the post apocalyptic society.

Cons: Koba’s transformation – I get him snapping after being nearly beaten to death by Caesar (can’t trust apes now), but he doesn’t even play lip service to Caesar except at the beginning. Not only does he become an outright villain (locking up Caesar’s friends, killing Ash…Rocket’s son) it is never explained. He has no guilt after us seeing a thinking and feeling person who had been through so much trauma. I hated that. He could have turned against Caesar if they had made some of Dreyfus’s men attack in retaliation for some of them being killed by Koba after Koba takes vengeance for Ash being injured originally. The third act really falls apart.

The Third Act – Malcolm still trusts the apes after they destroy his home and imprison people in cages…he protects Caesar even though he knows they are attacking his city under Koba and he holds Dreyfus hostage for having the gall to fight back.

Malcolm – From holding his friends hostage, to never fighting the apes or thinking fighting back is an option…this guy wins the award for most naive protagonist. Talking is one thing, when they’re attacking you…you kind of have to defend yourself. He doesn’t get it until Caesar tells him at the end. “Peace over. Apes started war, humans will not forgive.” To word it one way. He could have been great if he’d felt like the apes had to offer him something. Trust goes both ways…and I don’t just mean letting him get power for the humans in the city in order for them to live.

The Final Fight – This felt excessive and unneeded. People saw that Caesar was alive, by surviving the attempt on his life and revealing Koba to be the one behind it should have got the others behind him. Instead they have a long fight in the Gen-Sys tower that leads to it eventually collapsing after Dreyfus blows it up. What a waste, less is more guys.

This movie was not the strongest or the best of the “Planet of the Apes” Franchise. It was good, but not great. I would recommend it anyone who likes the series though and it looking for an interesting film to see this summer.

Final score for this film is 8.3 / 10. Had so much potential that was wasted in the final act.

 

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973): Completing the Original Planet of the Apes Cycle and a Story of Hope

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

      “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” completes the original Planet of the Apes cycle and is the 5th film of the Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect. It brings the story full circle into how things got to be the way they were in the original “Planet of the Apes.” It succeeds at this well while at the same time being an enjoyable film. It carries the themes we’ve seen from the other films forward, which I will go into in the assessment. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who also directed “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” 

      The premise of “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” is the Caesar is working to create a city where apes and humans can live in harmony…but General Aldo, leader of the Gorilla faction is causing conflict which later includes humans as an enemy faction when Caesar, Virgil (an Orangutan adviser) and MacDonald (brother of the MacDonald from the last film) go to the dead city to find the archives where the tapes of Cornelius and Zira are located. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film: 

Pros: Caesar – This is Robby McDowell best acting I’ve seen. You see the conflict he feels as a leader and why the people follow him, as well as the reason behind his mistrust of the situation and attempts at idealism and trying to change the future that he learns about from the tapes of his parents. After Aldo injures his son Cornelius they have a really sweet moment with his son is injured and dying… 

Virgil – He is the calm and soft spoken intellectual. He knows about radiation and is the philosopher (living up to his name). He is friends with MacDonald and and is the only counter to Aldo later on. 

MacDonald – Is also friend of Caesar and one of the few calm heads in this movie. He is the one who advises returning the Dead City, which is also a good idea…though in a way it creates the future by the action since it gives Aldo and the Governor the excuses they need. 

Mendez – One of the mutants and one of the calm heads in the city. He showed what I wanted to see with the Gorillas…but what we never get in this series. All Gorillas are war mad…at least the mutants have Mendez to counter the madness of the Governor. 

The Mutants and Dead City – This movie captures the Post Apocalypse better than the other films that take place in the future of this world. From the dead city with the radiation, to the mutants who are weak and mad and the broken down vehicles used for military purposes. The exploration of the city and conflict among the mutants was one of my favorite parts.

The Final Battle – The final battle is great. Apes with tech. and mutant humans in mad max vehicles facing off against each other. It captures the cruelty and violence of it all. 

The Confrontation – Virgil confronts Aldo with the knowledge that he murdered Cornelius turning the Gorillas (yay they aren’t mindless violent creatures in this series!) and the rest of the apes against him. It ends on top of a tree with Caesar confronting him with the truth of his actions before he tries to kill Caesar and plummets to his death in the same way Cornelius was killed. 

The Hope – The is the only film to end with hope. The Lawgiver, a Moses type Orangutan is teaching children of apes and humans the story of Caesar and the dream of peace…he also recounted the movies up to this point at the beginning. We see Caesar’s statue cry…but this is also the only time where the final hasn’t ended in mass annihilation or the killing of protagonists or the coming war…hope, what these movies lacked, this one had. 

Okay: Governor Kolp – He is evil and he knows it. He isn’t over the top either in how he plays it too. Severn Darden does quite well. Just wish we had got more of his motivation and more character behind how he was ruling beyond (attack the outsiders!). 

The lead up to war – Aldo should have had more depth. He is the first ape antagonist who has no depth and terrible action. He reminds me of Governor Breck from the last film. Governor Kolp is a little better but he never listens to cooler heads…he at least as the excuse of madness though.  

General Aldo – We see him feel guilt at the end, making him okay. But like Kolp he isn’t a pro. Otto was the best protagonist besides Dr. Zaius and General Ursus. Dr. Zaius being the most complex and greatest of these antagonists of the original series. 

The music – Isn’t super memorable. 

 Cons: Lagged – If some scenes had been shorter (the confrontation, the battle, exploration of the Dead City) it would have been stronger. Some scenes feel like they go on a little too long. But that is the only con. 

    I definitely recommend this film. It is strong on it’s own and completes the Original Planet of the Apes Series Cycle. It is worth it for Caesar and Virgil alone, but MacDonald and the mutants are also fantastic…and we even see complexity among the Gorillas a little bit. I personally would recommend the series as a whole, even though “Planet of the Apes,” the original film didn’t need sequels. The sequels add some fascinating characters and tackle some interesting ideas and even some great drama and action.

 I’m giving this film an 8.5 / 10. The ending and exploration of civilizations elevate beyond being just a good film. Is definitely a favorite.