By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Those damn dirty apes are at it again. This time, they are going to own the world instead of hide from it in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. When a surviving pocket of humanity not devastated by Simian Flu pandemic needs to reactivate a dam so what’s left of San Francisco can obtain electricity, to see humans and apes clash is inevitable. Strangely, the reason is not necessarily about resource control.
This film series does not need viewers to remember every single detail from its previous film, Rise of … but remembering the key players certainly helps. Rocket the chimpanzee (Terry Notary), returns as Caesar’s right-hand man who is faithful to only him and Maurice the orangutan (Karin Konoval) is the humble monk who is wise to let the conflict play out by not interfering in the inevitable war that’s to come.
Koba (Toby Kebbell) the bonobo is a conundrum for his species. They are normally seen as non-aggressive creatures and they are typically peaceful. They would rather make love than war as a method to settle disputes. But in what Koba feels towards the humans, there is a huge animosity that developed from the previous film that viewers have to remember. Fortunately, this new movie reminds everyone that he blames all of humanity for all the abuse he’s suffered since he became a test subject which lasted all his life. That makes him the catalyst for all the hate that’s to come in this film. As the principal antagonist, he wants to see his fellow primates from the Hominidae family return to form: to rule over the land like they once did.
Anthropologists might note that the choice in making Koba the villain in the early development of this series is a smart one. This species is endangered because of habitat destruction and human population growth. Some viewers may call this film evolution’s way of exercising divine justice if this bonobo got his way.
But with Caesar (Andy Serkis) in charge, his feelings are different. Because he was raised by a kind and caring scientist Will Rodman (James Franco), from the first film, Koba thinks he’s become soft. But in the way he marches forth and carries himself in an excellent performance by Serkis, there’s more to this chimpanzee than meets the eye. There’s this expression across his face that rarely changes. He knows that a war in inevitable and although he tries to avert disaster, the apocryphal meanderings this film makes are slow and tense. The excellent soundtrack created by Michael Giacchino certainly heightens those moments. When his credits include scoring music for television series such as Lost to films like Cloverfield — and multiple awards across the board — the tunes composed here are sombre and terse.
They are also equally emotional when moments in Caesar’s life are played on the screen. He’s a father. Not only does he have to watch out for his ailing wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer) and son Blue Eyes (Nick Thuston) but also he has to keep the peace within this multi-species colony of apes. Dissension amongst the ranks is very evident in this film’s start, and that also includes what some humans think of the apes; this parallel narrative makes for some compelling contrasts. With no surprise, Dreyfus’ (Gary Oldman) feelings for the apes are a mirror for Koba’s own feelings for humanity. Their emotional response is born out of fear, and to see how that plays out makes this film an excellent study in how some species try to survive in a dog eat dog world.
Although Malcom (Jason Clarke), Caesar’s human foil, tries to negotiate a peace, even he realizes the odds are against him. Clarke sometimes channels some of the same vibe that Rodman had but his motivation is different. He respects that his team, which includes his own wife and son, Ellie (Keri Russell) and Alex (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are in the apes territory than to ask that they be respected as dignitaries. Although he tries to negotiate a truce, what results from it is not easy. When there is a member of his team who is not interested in playing fair, the suspense only grows.
There’s no need to guess how this film will end. Obviously, when the franchise is simply about the Planet of the Apes, to see humanity’s fall is at the core of however long this series of movies is going to be. The original set of films created a pentalogy which is cyclic in nature. Those films had an underlying theme of testing how peaceful coexistence can be developed. It’s finally reached in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Although Caesar did shed a tear as a closing shot, just what is in store in the future of this rebooted series really needs a high note that will leave audiences gasping when a finality arrives. Stretching this new set of films too far may kill the Apes franchise more than help it. With a third film green-lit, just what writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver will pen will have some fans watching. Will it lead to the seminal Planet of the Apes (either the original or Tim Burton version)? That’s what some simians are waiting to happen.