Wednesday, July 16, 2014

And the grim march toward oblivion continues

However much you were enjoying yourself at any given point of the Star Wars prequels -- trying to say that with a straight face -- there was always that little part of your brain that said "Yeah, but at some point our hero is going to massacre all the living Jedi he can find, including children."

That's kind of how I feel about this Planet of the Apes series.

If these movies are planned as a trilogy -- and most successful series are, even if they ultimately bust out to a fourth or fifth movie -- then the next one is going to be pretty bleak indeed.

By both being prequel trilogies, Star Wars and Planet of the Apes have a bunch in common, but the biggest thing is: a known endpoint.

And just as we knew Annakin Skywalker would fall from grace and become the evil Darth Vader, we know that human beings will eventually go the way of the dodo on planet Earth -- first at the hands of a virus, and then at the hands of apes who learn how to use machine guns.

Cheery prospect, eh?

Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed how it all started, and now Dawn of the Planet of the Apes shows us where things are ten years later, when vegetation is bursting out of all the cracks of our formerly sound infrastructure, and humans are so scarce that a prosperous community of apes has not seen any of them in at least two winters' time.

Humans aren't dead -- yet. There's a community of at least several hundred of them in what remains of San Francisco, though they are so uncertain about the status of the rest of their species that they haven't even been able to make radio contact with other possible encampments. As far as they know, such encampments don't even exist.

Still, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not bleak -- not yet, anyway. No, they're saving that for War of the Planet of the Apes or Battle of the Planet of the Apes -- most likely Battle. Yes, I feel quite sure the third and possibly not final Apes movie will be called one of those two things, and it should lead to the extinguishing of any remaining humans. And where will be the hope in that?

Unless you think the apes are the protagonists of this series. As nobly as they may be portrayed, we just can't fully adopt their perspective. As viewers, we are too human.

At least Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith ended with that twinkle of hope on Tatooine, which is the baby Luke and Leia, the future saviors of all that is good and pure in that galaxy far, far away. What will be the Apes equivalent?

I suppose there might be an answer, but since I haven't seen Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) or Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) -- boy, they sure did churn out blockbusters quickly back in the day -- I can't really know what long-term hope humanity has in this alternate apes timeline. (Oops, guess they can't call the 2016 movie Battle of the Planet of the Apes, as that would be too close to the title of the series' fifth movie.)

Well, if it's the same creative team behind the next movie as behind this one, I have faith that they'll find that silver lining. I tell you, I didn't have a lot of hope for an interesting new Apes series after 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes left me cold -- when I wasn't laughing at its more ridiculous parts. But Dawn pulled a bit of a Two Towers on this series, getting me excited about its direction after I was nonplussed by the first movie. The difference here is that I'm not necessarily going to go back and re-watch Rise with a hope of changing my opinion on it, as I did for The Fellowship of the Ring. But yeah, I'm glad I prioritized seeing Dawn in the theater.

Without going into too much detail about what I liked about Dawn, I will stop to remark on the staggeringly talented Andy Serkis, who again "plays" Caesar. It will never be entirely possible form me to understand how much of what makes this character is Serkis' performance, and how much is the work of the CG artists, but let's just say that Caesar burns with a seriousness that could not be duplicated by just any person jumping around in a ping pong ball suit. This is, if anything, an even more remarkable performance than the one we saw in Rise, which was the only thing I really liked about that movie. This time, there's a lot more to like -- including human stuff that's not nearly so dumb. (Thank you, Jason Clarke, for giving a shit.)

If Matt Reeves can find some cause for optimism at the end of his next movie -- or even burrow down into the dark, daring, Nolan-y depths of the implied direction of this franchise -- I'll be first in line.

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