Despite the colossal box office returns of its predecessor, Beneath The Planet of The Apes had its budget halved – a penny-pinching exercise that would continue throughout the series. By the time of Conquest of The Planet of The Apes, allegory had taken over spectacle, and the films became a running commentary on racial oppression and the contemporary 1970s actions of the Black Panther movement. Cleverly, the five original Ape movies form a long circular narrative, with the time-travelling chimpanzees of Escape From The Planet of The Apes, giving birth to a son whose subsequent revolution leads directly to the creation of the society Charlton Heston discovers in the first film.
By the final movie, Battle For The Planet of The Apes, the budgets had been stripped back so far that you couldn’t even see the mouths moving. A TV show followed, which is best left to the memory, then came a poorly received and quickly cancelled animated series. Final ignominy was to come in 2001 with Tim Burton’s mega-budget remake, which was neither allegorical nor ingenious. Capped by one of the most imbecilic endings in modern cinema, Tim Burton’s least ‘Tim Burton’ film is memorable only for being the first time anyone had heard the dreaded word, ‘Reimagining.’
And so in 2011, hopes that Rise of The Planet of The Apes would amount to anything more than an expanded DVD box set were fairly low. Under the radar though, director Rupert Wyatt had put together an astonishingly assured movie, anchored by a tight script (with plenty of judicious nods to the 1968 film) and fine character work from James Franco, Freida Pinto and John Lithgow. Most impressive of all was the digital effects work by Weta, which created living, breathing, entirely realistic apes of all shapes and sizes. Caesar, played by Andy Serkis in his ping-pong ball suit, was the most convincing CGI lead character ever seen.
With a world-wide take of 2m in the coffers, a sequel was a foregone conclusion. Dawn of The Planet of The Apes is a natural continuation of the first movie, which brazenly sent a lethal, humanity destroying virus across the globe…as part of the end credits graphics. Ten years later, the earth is now a desolated wasteland and the human race has been reduced to a few thousand people trying to regroup as a species and prepare themselves for a new future.
While humankind was being decimated, the apes have been busy. Super-intelligent Caesar has mated and now has a wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer) and a child, River. The society of apes he leads (or should that be flange of apes?) are an increasingly cohesive unit of civilised primates, mostly unaware of the planet’s previous owners.
Caesar at least has the memory of his kind ‘father’ and even kindlier ‘grandfather’ to temper his ‘Us & Them’ stance. According to Serkis, Caesar is “trying to extrapolate the best things about humanity and how he can bring that into the ape world. At the same time, he’s really falling back and learning how to be an ape himself.”
However, there are other apes like Koba (future Dr. Doom Toby Kebbell) who remembers all too well what cruelty the humans are capable of, and is as immune to their charms as he is immune to Simian Flu. It is this schism that Caesar has to bridge when he negotiates an uneasy alliance with Malcolm, a human with a child of his own. Will the peace last? The trailer footage, depicting Caesar in war-paint beckoning forth his troops does not bode well, but then, it can’t be giving too much away to point out the Planet of The Apes movies rarely end on an upbeat note.
Production-wise, the only possible element of concern stemmed from the absence of so many of the original personnel from Rise. Neither Frieda Pinto nor James Franco have returned – as producer Dylan Clarke pointed out, “They were ground zero of the original virus. They’re the ones that died.” – though rumours of a Franco cameo are rife.
The non-return (due to reported scheduling conflicts) of director Rupert Wyatt would have been a major cause for doubt, had he not been replaced by Matt Reeves. With Let Me In, Reeves showed that sensitive character studies are as natural to him as the mayhem he unleashed in Cloverfield, so there could hardly be a better helmsman for an action movie like this, which is impelled by the desperate acts of such disparate characters. Fox are clearly happy with his results: he’s been signed to direct the third Apes movie (Day of The Apes?) which will be released on July 29th 2016.
The new human leads are headed up by Zero Dark Thirty star Jason Clarke as Malcolm, the leader of the straggling humans. Let Me In’s Kodi Smit-McPhee plays his son, who has never known anything but a post-virus world. 20th Century Fox are keeping the allegiances of Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus close to their chest. Be he friend or be he foe? You never can tell with Gary Oldman. Nor do we know whether PG Tips have had the foresight to strategize a cross-platform advertising campaign based on their notorious 1980s chimp-based television commercials.
By its US July 11th release (July 17th in the UK), the talking robots and lycra-clad superheroes will have been and gone, and we can all move onto the main course. Of all the major summer blockbuster movies of 2014, the acronym-dependent DOTPOTA is the strongest and most tantalising hope we have for an intelligent, character-based thrill ride. I for one, have already joined my place in the queue.