June 16, 2024

Archie Wertheim

Technology Integration and Foundations for Effective Leadership

It’s a Planet of the Apes, and We’re Just Living in It

5 min read
It's a Planet of the Apes, and We're Just Living in It

All the way back in 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes seemed like it’d be an unremarkable but potentially solid movie. No one really knew what to make of Fox doing a prequel/reboot of the classic sci-fi series, especially since it’d already tried a decade prior with Tim Burton’s divisive 2001 remake. That wariness persisted even through the film itself, at least until the halfway point where it’s revealed that the hyperintelligent ape Caesar has evolved to the point of actually speaking.

Cliche as it is to say, that’s the moment where the film sharpens up and goes from pretty good to great. And thank goodness that it was both not revealed in the marketing and lands as perfectly as it does. If it hadn’t, and if Rise’s remainder hadn’t proceeded to be some very well-directed and acted primate carnage through San Francisco, we’d have been deprived of what’s ended up being the most surprisingly enjoyable sci-fi movie franchise of our current generation.

Rise of the planet of the apes – ‘’No!’’ scene

The 2010s were a franchise-heavy decade, and the successful ones eventually ended up with a weak entry somewhere in the mix. Not so with the Apes: if anything, they kept getting better, and none of the three movies to date can be called bad or terrible. It’s a remarkable feat of consistency for a series that’s also ended up culturally overlooked to an extent. All three films—Rise directed by Rupert Wyatt and the sequels by Matt Reeves—are so open-and-shut great that they can’t be talked about on a consistent basis in the same way that we do for Marvel, Star Wars, or even Mission: Impossible. You wanted dazzling action, you went to one of those movies. But if you also wanted human and ape drama where both species were at their best and worst? That’s where the Planet of the Apes reboot came in, with the action scenes serving as dessert to an all-you-can-drama buffet.

It must also be said that so much of what made these movies work was its leading man, Andy Serkis. Who would’ve thought that the guy famously known for wearing a mocap suit and playing that little freak Gollum would end up both guiding the industry toward the mocap age and also headline a trio of stellar movies? These films stopped just shy of being a star-making turn for Serkis, but they provided a great showcase for motion-capture acting at its best. He and the other ape actors—including movement coach Terry Notary and actor Toby Kebbell—did some great work in bringing these characters to life, and those performances still largely hold up and feel real.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes hits the 10-year mark in July, and is often looked at as the best of the three. It’s a movie that’s likely to stick with you, least of all because it’s pretty bleak for a summer blockbuster. For every scene of relative peace between Caesar’s apes and members of a human enclave wanting to power a hydroelectric dam, the movie understands things are going to inevitably go bad. Caesar’s right hand Koba and Dreyfus over on the human side are too ready to start a fight, and Caesar and Malcolm aren’t fully prepared for that violence to start until it’s too late. Yeah, watching Koba charge into battle on horseback armed with machine guns is cool—it really is—but it’s also terrifying since it means things can only escalate from there and no one’s going to come out a winner. Tentpole movies tend to end with the heroes feeling triumphant, but that’s not the case in Dawn; how often do films of this type get to end on such a down note?

Image for article titled It's a Planet of the Apes, and We're Just Living in It

Image: 20th Century Studios

Things take an even darker turn with War for the Planet of the Apes, which kicks off with Caesar’s wife and eldest son getting murdered and only proceeds to go down from there. Slave labor camps, primates fully buying into human ideology, executions—even in scenes that are played for laughs or action, there’s an undercurrent of sorrow running under the hood. Nearly everyone in War understands they’re at the end of their line and the only thing that really awaits them is a death that won’t be inspiring, heroic, or even really meaningful: it’s going to be just plain sad and pointless in the grand scheme. Even Caesar’s end isn’t punctuated with any real closure; instead, the film closes out on the uncertainty of what the apes will do now that they’ve found their promised land but lost their figurehead in the process.

At time of writing, I haven’t seen Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, which is set hundreds of years after War and centers on new lead Noa clashing with the ape king named Proximus over Caesar’s teachings. With a seven-year gap between films, Kingdom couldn’t have come at a more exciting time. Movies like Dune: Part Two and Gozilla x Kong have done remarkably well in theaters, and there’s a real appreciation for movies that feel grand and like they’re putting all their ambitions on screen. If Kingdom is as good as early buzz has made it sound it so far, then it’ll be exciting to see how this new trilogy unfolds over the next five or seven-year span. I don’t know how we ended up in a world where movies about CG apes in a post-apocalypse have become so compelling and beloved, but I’m glad we’ve reached that point. There isn’t anything like these, and they deserve all the love and attention they can get.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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