Directed by Matt Reeves
The reboot marked, of course, the rise, and one of the disappointments of this Dawn is how predictably it sets up yet another sequel—no doubt Ascent or Reign or Genesis. Dusk seems an awfully long way off. Yep, Planet of the Apes is back, thumping its big CGI chest again, but it’s lots of apes-on-horses-with-sticks-and-spears—more B-movie hollow wood than the first, merrier go-around-again.
Some of the pleasure of Dawn’s cuddlier and more complex predecessor came from the story’s soliciting of sympathy, from homo sapiens viewers, for apes being mistreated by people. Here, other than one bigot still blaming the “simian flu” pandemic—triggered by human lab-workers—on the apes, and ape-leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, using motion-capture technology) saying that lab-scarred, vengeful Kuba “learned hate from humans,” this flick’s entirely uninterested in bio-ethics, the complexities of our primate relatives, or in any other way complicating the build-up to action. The effect? A hazy allegory for fear and intolerance sea-mists, more and more, into shot after shot of apes’ sneering mouths or staring eyes.
What complexity to be had lies in those CGI details, from the striking expressions of Caesar and co to a San Francisco taken back by nature. The one iconic shot here is sublimely bizarre—humans so happy to see a gas station in Muir Woods lit with power again, amid young sequoias that have sprung up, storeys high, around it, while apes watch them from horseback. The problem’s that the movie obviously wants superbly digitally-rendered but still B-schlock images, like that of Kuba firing two guns from atop his steed, to be the memorable moments. And for all the film’s use of depth for 3D—hydro-dam chambers; a tower-top battle—it’s addicted to pat lines and clichéd scenes of individual heroism (even dumber in a post-plague world where societies are being rebuilt) or sentimental nonsense, from the usual battle between alpha males to the Florence Nightingale stereotype of an often weepy but sweet and soothing woman (Keri Russell) cooing over a baby ape. Those are the moments that give the box-office game away—this franchise wants to cater/pander to some imagined teen market that was weaned on Disney nature docs but now just want their chimps horse-ridin’ and gun-totin’.