Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - movie review

My three-year-old son's favorite movie is Planet of the Apes. Never mind the fact that he's never seen it, but if you ask him to name his favorite film, that's the name he gives. (This all might change, as I just bought the original series on Blu-Ray for a paltry $20.) This has nothing to do with my review, but I wanted to work that in here somehow.

I'm too young myself to have seen any of the original films in the theater. (I think that the last one came out the year I was born.) However, I remember one of the local channels showing one of the films every day for a week straight. I vividly recall the classic ending to the first one, with Charlton Heston declaring "Damn you! Damn you all to hell!" as he discovered the movie's twist ending.

I have hazier memories of the sequels, but I remember liking them. Hopefully when I revisit them on Blu-Ray, I won't have my memories sullied. (I have recently rewatched the original. Is it dated? Yes. But I was surprised at how enjoyable it still was. No doubt it has to do with the simple fact that it's a good story.

Like many others, I saw Tim Burton's reboot, but I was pretty disappointed in that. It probably would have been better if Mark Wahlberg acted like Dirk Diggler meeting the ape-filled planet, but alas that was not to be. I do remember that it looked really cool - especially how they did the apes. Beyond that, it was a bit of a bore.

When I heard about the new reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I basically just rolled my eyes, figuring that it was about time that they just went ahead and buried this pathetic franchise. When I saw the previews, I thought to myself, "This might not be bad." When I read the reviews, I figured it would be a good excuse to go see a movie by myself. It turned out to be much better than it had any right to be, and I even wound up buying it when it came out on Blu-Ray.

I was cautiously optimistic when it came to this current sequel, and it looks like my optimism has been rewarded. While it's not as much of a surprise as the first one has to how good it is, it still holds up really well and keeps everything that worked well about the last one while still moving the story forward. The story, in a nutshell, is that humanity is on its last legs, and a pocket of human civilization runs into conflict with Caesar's ape society. Ultimately, it comes down to war, and notions of tribalism are put to the test. (There's that concept of tribalism sneaking its way into my blog again.) Basically, are humans good or bad? What about apes? Maybe it's just as complex of an idea when it comes to apes, especially if they wind up becoming as smart as us.

Like any good piece of entertainment, whether it's drama or sci-fi, it only works if it gives you characters that you can care about. This movie does a good job with that, although you might make the argument that you wind up caring more about the apes than the humans. That's okay though, because as humans ourselves, we're likely to already be predisposed to root for our fellow homo sapiens sapiens.

Maybe it's just the science enthusiast in me, but these movies really make me think and marvel at the fact that apes are our cousins. Actually, we ARE apes! I've done a bit of reading on primates and morality, and it's amazing how much there still is to discover about our distant relatives, and it really makes me wonder whether we can justify treating them the way we have in the past. Anyway, a movie like this gets me thinking about these real-life concerns, which is what I think a good piece of science fiction is supposed to do.

It looks like the reviews have been pretty good for this one, and I'm not surprised. It doesn't just work on the dramatic level, as the action scenes are all really engaging as well. Hopefully they'll keep hitting the right notes, as no doubt this is a series that will continue. And I hope that they can come up with an interesting twist when it comes to those astronauts returning to Earth.

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