As Brian Tallerico said in his review for War for the Planet of the Apes, “How do I convince viewers who may be reluctant to see a movie about talking apes that these three movies have transcended their concept to become one of the best Hollywood trilogies of their generation?”
I am one of the people who was reluctant to see the rebooted franchise of The Planet of the Apes. For me, I really enjoyed the 1968 classic. It was revolutionary for its time and featured an ending that is still talked about today, nearly 50 years later. Then Tim Burton released his remake and it was nothing short of a disappointment, although the costumes were well done, but the story lacked the thrills and impact of the original.
When I first heard about Hollywood rebooting the franchise, I just shook my head and asked myself, “Why?” The first two films, Rise and Dawn, were released to critical acclaim and the more I heard about them, my interest started to peak. The day prior to War being released, AMC Theaters released the entire trilogy, which played on the big screen one after the other. I decided to go for it and see what the rebooted franchise could offer. After watching all three films back to back, I walked out of the theater very impressed and glad that I finally decided to take a chance and open my mind to see what could be done.
We have already heard the buzz concerning Andy Serkis‘ performance as Caesar, the ape that leads the revolution. It’s sad that the Academy doesn’t recognize Motion Capture as acting, but in reality, it is. Serkis surprised us with an amazing performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy. Not only was the character complex and memorable, but without Serkis, he would not exist. Serkis has shown his ability to go from stage performances, being in movies playing a human character, and playing Motion Capture characters such as Gollum, King Kong, and most recently Caesar, and each time has given a memorable performance that makes us realize that we are viewing a character in a story, instead of CGI on an actor.
What makes Caesar so compelling? Why was I so impressed with this trilogy that in my mind it couldn’t be done any better than the original? In truth, it’s hard to not think about the classic film when viewing this trilogy because it was so impactful for its time. Also, we shouldn’t forget the novel that inspired it all when it made its debut in 1963. The Planet of the Apes is unique in its look at the human race, social commentary, and a world literally turned upside down when evolution prevails. It’s a story that’s original and for some, really strange and weird — I myself was one who thought that long ago.
With this rebooted trilogy, I was surprised at how it was told. For one, seeing the actors not wearing monkey suits was a big change, and being that the apes were CGI, I became so immersed in the story and the characters that soon enough, I forgot that I was seeing CGI on the screen. The main attraction to this trilogy is of course, Caesar; with an outstanding performance from Andy Serkis. Caesar is a character that learns about himself and his fellow apes when his world is turned upside down. He is confused as to what is happening and quickly realizes how he and his fellow brothers are treated. What’s interesting is that this trilogy is told from the apes’ perspective, which I think makes the film even more impactful and unique.
Rise was the introduction; the beginning of Caesar and what led to the revolution. It all starts when Caesar’s mother is killed after she wreaks havoc at a biotech company that is looking to create a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. It turns out that she was protecting her baby, something that was unknown to the scientists. Caesar’s mother was injected with this test drug called ALZ-112, which in turn left a genetic code on baby Caesar. When the company orders the chimps to be destroyed, Will Rodman (James Franco) is unable to put little Caesar down and instead brings him home. Rodman notices that Caesar is quite the smart one, and becomes so as he ages.
Caesar had never been with any other chimps his whole life and only knew what he had at home, a sheltered life which in the end leads to a devastating change for him. Through a series of event,s Caesar is taken to a primate shelter and feels abandoned by his only family. It’s heartbreaking to see because we see this happening through Caesar’s eyes. Serkis’ acting when he first enters the facility and is left behind almost brought me to tears — sort of a mirrored image of a child being taken away from their family, it’s quite powerful.
At the primate facility Caesar witnesses the cruelty of some of the guards and even has to learn how the chimps interact with each other. At first, it’s very scary for him, but he figures out how to open hatches, communicate with the chimps, and even manages an escape that will forever change the future of the planet. Caesar is an interesting character because his story starts out when he’s just a child, We are seeing him grow up and understand all that he goes through. We see his struggles and the first time we hear him speak, all we can do is hold our breath. Rise was a film that really surprised me in a way that I never thought I would be moved. Seeing the apes being treated like lab rats was shocking and a wake-up call for me. The scientists and the investors just used these apes like property and when they aren’t needed anymore, they are discarded like trash. It’s surprising to see a film that is as much a human story as it is an ape one, and in the end, I felt the anger, the sadness, and the need for freedom once all hell broke loose.
If you look at the trilogy, as a whole, I noticed that each film; Rise, Dawn, and War are all really different from each other. Rise was how Caesar learned of himself and what apes could do when they stood as one. Dawn worked on the idea that Caesar was now a father and wanted to be separate from the humans and live in peace, despite a worldwide pandemic that devastated the entire planet, and who do the humans blame? The apes. In War, the situation has dramatically changed, Caesar suffers a loss that no one should have to endure, a loss that leads Caesar to do something that he would never do otherwise.
With this rebooted trilogy the apes are the story and Caesar is a character that we come to identify with. Another thing that was a surprise was the idea of who was the real villain. Dawn answers those questions in ways that had me almost on the edge of my seat. The character of Koba is one who holds a personal grudge for the experimental treatment that he was subjected to, and who can blame him for feeling the way he does? I don’t want to say much about the plot of Dawn and War because you need to experience the films for yourself. But as each film does play out, the story gets darker and feels realistic probably because certain world events are mirrored within this franchise.
The idea of monkeys, chimps, and apes taking over the planet may have some people shaking their heads in bewilderment, but if you look close and analyze the film, I think one will see how much it actually parallels the real world. This isn’t a simple story, apes get mad and take over. No. There is much more to be seen. It’s a story that relates to us humans but is told from a perspective that we can identify with and something that has happened in real life as well.
Andy Serkis gives a performance that is not only memorable but is one that is filled with emotion, tenderness, and feels almost human. Serkis will always be remembered as Gollum, but in some ways, I think he may have surpassed that performance, which just may be worthy of major recognition. We aren’t just seeing a CGI ape talk to other apes, we are seeing Serkis become fully ingrained in his character. What other films can I tell you to see about animals that feature human-like qualities without being humans themselves? As with so many films that feature human characters learning traits about themselves with such examples as Oskar Schindler, Rocky Balboa, and Michael Corleone; The Planet of the Apes takes the same idea and utilizes it with animals. Caesar is an ape who learns how the world works and just the kind of people he encounters and how they will have an impact on him forever. It’s something that is original, thought-provoking and is an experience that is well worth the adventure. The screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback, and finally the director of Dawn and War Matt Reeves have crafted a trilogy that far exceeds expectations. It relies on character development and a well thought out story that brings about emotions, and doesn’t rely on big action sequences to keep our attention. Caesar led the revolution to not incite war, yet war is what happened. All he ever wanted was to be himself and be free and look at what happened to him. It’s a journey that will captivate you, feed you emotions that I don’t think you’ll expect, and a trilogy that is truly a feat in that each film continues to improve and surprise. Serkis is Caesar, and he is someone that you don’t want to miss.