SYNOPSIS: Set ten years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes saw Caesar (Andy Serkis) break free from a San Fransisco primate sanctuary and start an ape uprising, the middle-aged chimpanzee is the leader of a large population of genetically evolved apes. Most of humankind was wiped out by a pandemic of ALZ-113—a “simian flu” virus that speeds up the rebuilding of brain cells in apes but is deadly to humans—but when a small band of humans scout a water source near the ape camp a monkey wrench is thrown into the fragile peace between homo sapiens and simians is threatened. “Apes do not want war,” says Caesar, but a battle—gorilla warfare?—for control is inevitable.
Richard: 4 ½ Stars
Mark: 4 Stars
Richard: Mark, to riff off of the old Superman tagline, “You will believe an ape can speak.” The special effects are amazing, but beyond the pixel manipulation that brings Caesar and company to vivid life, there are remarkable performances that, for lack of a better phrase, humanize the apes. These aren’t the erudite apes of the Roddy McDowell era, with vocabularies that would impress even Conrad Black, but simian characters that behave somewhere midway between pure instinct and higher intelligence. I went bananas for the apes. You?
Mark: The apes may have limited vocabularies but they’re a lot more interesting than the humans in the picture. This is a very sophisticated blockbuster that deals with our queasy relationship to the animal world and also acts as a metaphor for our need for civilized diplomacy. The post-apocalyptic world of a verdant but decaying San Francisco is visually plausible, and there are plot points worthy of a Greek tragedy. But enough about that. The apes are rad, man!
RC: It sure is a different kind of blockbuster. It has all the elements of the usual summer fare—it’s a sequel, things blow up and, if that wasn’t enough, also features an ape —but it takes risks. About half of it is done in ape sign language (with subtitles) and it’s not chock-a-block with action. Instead it takes time building characters and motivations so when the wild ape-on-human action begins it feels earned and it feels epic.
MB: Ape-on-human? What about the fabulous ape-on-ape action? Havent seen this kind of gritty action since the Bumfight videos of the Nineties. When these apes go at each other, it’s feral and primitive. WWF, take note! And the ape sign language forces them to act with their eyes, which reminded me of the power of old silent films. I didn’t need a bunch of clunky dialogue to know what these gorillas were thinking.
RC: I agree. I think this is the kind of performance that could convince the Academy to consider “motion capture” acting for inclusion in the Oscar acting categories. Beyond the performances though, is a thought-provoking movie about race, gun usage and xenophobia. Its masked in allegory and, well, a story about talking apes, but it touches on those hot button topics in an interesting way.
MB: What is missing from the movie is James Franco, who brought some lightness and offhand charm to the last Apes movie. The apes are so strong in these films that the movie needs some star charisma to balance it out. Nevertheless, we’ve come a long way away from Bedtime for Bonzo.