Following on from 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (both of these are prequels to the classic of 1968), it is succinctly explained during the opening credits how a virus, derived from experimentation with apes, has all but eradicated our species.
Cut then to the surviving colony of apes chasing game in the forest.
There is a pattern emerging in the ‘noble savage’ genre that introduces its characters while they’re on the hunt, doing what comes naturally – eg Last Of The Mohicans, Apocalypto – and it immediately establishes the prevailing PoV. The mature Caesar, ten years after Rise …, is the alpha male in an odd coalition of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
Into their Eden stumbles a group of humans whose aim is to restore a hydro-electric dam and provide power for their San Francisco enclave. Conflict between the two tribes arises.
This is a fantastic movie, albeit underpinned by the now-exhausted and fallacious ‘great man’ scenario and locked into the view that war is hard-wired into the genetic make-up of all primates (it fills cinemas, that’s for sure).
Caesar’s society is in no way democratic – it is patriarchal and dictatorial, its health dependent on the hazy ideology of being led by a benevolent despot. Challenging Caesar’s leadership is Koba, scarred and embittered by harsh experience and wishing to eradicate humans, in the same way that Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) would deal with what he sees as humanity’s simian enemies. Malcolm and Ellie (Jason Clarke and Keri Russell) are the sympathetic go-betweens.
Reductionism goes hand in glove with Darwinism and if the philosophy is bleak, our daily news suggests, it is also unarguable. Director Matt Reeves has form in this field, having given us the similarly cataclysmic, and underrated, Cloverfield (2008), and if he sometimes shows a little too much relish in the battle scenes, he at least does not try to gloss over the ferocity and futility of combat.
The effects are spectacular, the creatures convincing and the drama totally absorbing.
And when electricity is restored, the song played is desperately moving.
~ John Campbell