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Intelligent Apes, Mindless Entertainment

  • Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2014 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Intelligent <i>Apes</i>, Mindless Entertainment

Release Date: July 11, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language)
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 130 minutes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary

It's been ten years since Caesar (Andy Serkis, King Kong) led his band of genetically-altered simians into Muir Woods at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. They've been good years for Caesar and company. The apes have built a community in the forest. Caesar even settled down with a wife and family.

For humans, things have not gone so well. As predicted at the end of the previous film, a manmade virus has spread far and wide, leaving chaos and anarchy behind. San Francisco is a shell of its former self, populated by a band of huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Actually, they're yearning for electricity so they can get back online and, you know, get their former lives back. Humans. So clueless.

Each group (apes and humans) blames the other for all the world's ills. This is not a big problem when they don't have to interact, but when Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty) leads a crew into the woods and the two species come face to face, the result is about what you'd expect. In fact, almost everything about this movie is "about what you'd expect." You've seen it all before: sometimes as a western, sometimes sci-fi or period drama, but name any "settlers versus natives" scenario, make one side a hairy bunch that communicates mostly in grunts, and you've got it. Every cliché is covered, from father-son disagreements to an enemy saving the life of a beloved tribe member to the one crazy sidekick who goes bananas and starts a war. Now, well-trodden ground isn't necessarily a bad thing; we see these narratives over and over because they actually make good stories.

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Reprising his role as Caesar, Serkis does a fine job conveying a wide range of emotions—not the easiest task, given his appearance. A more mature adult than the young revolutionary of the first film, Caesar is "still developing his 'inner-ape'," according to Serkis. Caesar just wants everyone to get along, preferably at a distance. On the other hand, Koba (Toby Kebbell, Wrath of the Titans), who spent his early years as a laboratory test subject, is of the opinion that the only good human is a dead human. When he touches his scars and categorizes them as "human work" you can't help but see his point.

Over on Team Human, Malcolm is joined by his son Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, Let Me In), a boy who can barely remember a time when the world was normal and his mom was alive. Rounding out their little family is Ellie (Keri Russell, Waitress) a former medical professional with the Center for Disease Control who seems to be a relative newcomer to her relationship with Malcolm, but they make a good pair. She's tougher than she looks, and she'll need to be. Then there's Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight), the leader of the San Francisco colony. He makes some stirring speeches, but mostly this is a story about two families—one human, one ape—just trying to survive.

It's inevitable that things will go horribly wrong but blame is nicely balanced between humans and apes. There are faults on both sides and plenty of guilt to go around. Violence is committed by animals and humans to animals and humans. This post-apocalyptic landscape is a dark and scary place and the future does not look promising.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) declared that other than the fact that the film's apes are intelligent, "Everything else is completely realistic." I'm not so sure about that; there are holes in the plot big enough to drive a tank through, but let's be real: nobody goes to this kind of movie for the plot. It's all about the spectacle, about gun-toting apes riding horses and marching on cities. And explosions, of course. No summer blockbuster is complete without explosions (though I must say I found these a bit wimpy, especially given the amount of C4 involved). But never mind; as relatively mindless entertainment goes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will do just fine.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Smoking and drinking by humans; two men give an ape an alcoholic drink.
  • Language/Profanity: The usual PG-13 list was checked off, mostly just once or twice per word: sh**; a** and a**hole; son of a bi***; f**king. One instance of Jesus' name used as an expletive.
  • Sex/Nudity: The apes are nude, but as another movie-goer pointed out, unlike the real thing as seen in zoos or National Geographic, they do not appear to have any genitals. A couple of (human) kisses; Ellie and Malcolm are seen sleeping in the same tent but possibly in separate sleeping bags.
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense: Quite a lot of violence done to humans and other species, inflicted by humans and other species. It's pretty intense and some of it is fairly disturbing, particularly when someone or something is being clubbed to death. Guns are used by both species, there are explosions, characters fall to their deaths, and so on.

Publication date: July 10, 2014