In 2011 director Rupert Wyatt gave us Rise of the Planet of the Apes a prequel/reboot of the classic Planet of the Apes series, we will gleefully ignore Tim Burton’s messy attempt, and in doing so created an excellent film that looked to be the beginning of an amazing saga. Now it’s 2014 and Matt Reeves is at the helm of this next exciting chapter of the ape’s chronicle and it is safe to say he did not drop the ball.
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes was set in the far future where apes ruled the Earth and man was but a mute savage, it was followed up by one interesting sequel but then they blew the planet up. That’s a nasty corner to try and write yourself out of. So for further installments it required the writers to come up with a time travel element that never made a lick of sense but allowed the writers to take the story back to the present day, and then they kind of gave us a half-assed an origin story. It never really worked. With this new series we are getting a logical progression of the fall of man and the rise of the apes. Time travelers need not apply.
This chapter takes place over a decade after ALZ-113 wiped out most of mankind with its simian virus while the escaped apes have been doing pretty well for themselves in Muir Woods. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads the ape community as a Moses like figure crossed with a bit of Alexander the Great. He has a son to hunt at his side and a new baby to add to his growing family. Things are good in Ape City.
Of course things can’t remain peaceful forever as once again the threat of man rears its ugly head. A small colony of humans, led by Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), has taken up residence in the ruins of San Francisco but they are but a few weeks away from being out of fuel for power and lights. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) leads a small group into Muir Woods in the hopes of getting the hydro-electric dam located there functioning and thus preventing a fallback to the Dark Ages. Unfortunately the apes are not too keen on visitors.
The dynamic of this film is fantastic, sure there are humans and they serve an important function to the story, but it is the apes that are the forefront here as they should be. There are some nice moments with Malcom’s wife Ellie (Kerri Russell) and his teen-age son Alexander (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) as they try to show the apes that humans can be trusted, while the ape side is much more interesting with Caesar’s son having a kind of teenage rebellion thing going, but it is Koba (Toby Kebbell), the scarred and tortured chimp from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, whose hate for humans is a fire that even the great Caesar cannot put out, and it is this that hatred which ratchets up the tension and drives the story forward.
I thought Andy Serkis deserved at least an Academy Award nomination for his motion capture work in the first film and once again he proves to be the king of this field of acting. Kudos should go to all the motion capture artists in this film, between their acting skills and the talented CGI artists you never once doubted you were looking at a real ape with real thoughts and emotions. Their interaction with the humans and the world around them is seamless. If there is any fault in this movie it is in the few human leads who aren’t as well rounded as the apes; Malcolm is a bit of a bland “Nice Guy” and not all that interesting, while Oldman’s Dreyfus doesn’t have much of a chance to develop a character at all, but the worst personality is the ape hating Carver (Kirk Acevedo) whose sole job is apparently to be an asshole and to be brought along with the group for no logical reason. Seriously, if you want to set up diplomatic relations with the apes maybe you shouldn’t bring along the guy who shot one.
Matt Reeves has easily topped Rupert Wyatt’s excellent first entry and I for one am glad that he has signed on for the next chapter. The action sequences are spectacular and it’s hard not get a rush watching mounted apes wielding machine guns. It will certainly be interesting to see how close they get to the original series with this current run. Will humans eventually become mute savages that raid the ape’s cornfields? How many installments are we going to get before the missing spacecraft from Rise returns to Earth?
Special Note: With the ape society alongside humans in a post-apocalyptic world this movie has many similarities to Battle for the Planet of the Apes and could almost be considered a remake of that one. Let’s just hope someday we get the mutants from Beneath.
Shout out to composer Michael Giacchino whose score heavily references the music from the “Dawn of Man” sequence of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and it works really well.