Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Hail Caesar (Spoiler Free)

Here’s the quickest, most spoiler free review I can offer: for a minute in this movie, there’s an ape driving a tank. 5 stars.

It’s been 10 years since most humans were killed by an outbreak of what has been dubbed the “simian flu,” the result of James Franco’s Alzheimer’s cure in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A small group of survivors are stationed in what’s left of San Francisco but only have 2 weeks of power left. They venture into the woods to use the dam to reroute power to avoid chaos and anarchy. To reroute the God dam power, if you will. They come across Caesar and the freed apes who have been living peacefully in the forest since their battle on the Golden Gate Bridge, a battle which oddly enough not a single person mentions or seems to remember. One of the survivors, fearing for his life, shoots and wounds an ape. The humans are chased back to the city but Malcolm, one of the founders of their refugee city, forms an uneasy truce with Caesar to get the dam working and then leave and never return. While a small group of survivors work to bring power back to their city, Dreyfus, their leader, begins to arm the citizens back at home to take the dam by force if Malcolm and his group are unsuccessful. The waiting game begins on who will fire the first shot to begin the war that ends mankind's reign as the dominant species.

Right off the bat I just want to say this movie is absolutely gorgeous. The CGI is amazing. Not amazing in the sense of “holy shit look how cool Optimus looks,” but in the sense of I honestly couldn’t tell you what parts of the movie were real. I don’t know if it’s Andy Serkis in a giant green screen studio doing mo-cap work or if he's really out in the forest. I don’t know how many of the apes are CGI. I don’t even know if the horses were real. Every hair on every animal looks lifelike and it’s an amazing technological spectacle. 

The entire film is visually stunning. From Ape City in the forest to the remains of San Francisco, the beautiful locales help immerse you even more into this movie where you spend the first 20 minutes reading ape sign language. Andy Serkis's performance combined with this technology make him into a believable and sympathetic protagonist. It's Caesar's movie and the combination of Serkis' acting and the visual effects make it work. There's less dialogue in this 2 hour movie than you'd find in an episode of Mad Men. Caesar gets his point across not just through sign language but with subtle moves and expressions. A lot of the early scenes are Caesar being faced with making the right move to lead his people. Whether or not to take his people to war, to invite dangerous humans into his home, which of his men he can trust. It's in the eyes, not the monologues, and it works beautifully. 

The movie takes its time in the beginning and sets a tone, a sense of where and when, and it's all gorgeous. From the opening scene of the apes hunting deer I'm completely immersed in the ape society and its inhabitants. A couple of times I was so lost in what was happening that when it cut to a scene with only humans I thought to myself "wait a second, these are fuckin monkeys." But I was so into the story they were telling and waiting for that first shot to be fired that I completely forgot I was watching guys in motion capture suits use sign language at each other. 

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s almost a solid 20 minutes before a single word is spoken. This movie takes its time and I couldn’t be happier for it. For the first time in this decades-spanning series, this movie isn’t about the humans. It’s not about Marky Mark, Chuck Heston, or James Franco. It’s about Ceasar. You know the phrase about giving a thousand monkeys typewriters and eventually they’ll create Shakespeare? This is a Shakespearean tragedy performed by monkeys. Or apes, as they find the term monkey offends them. It’s a movie about a king engaging in a shaky alliance with people who have been responsible for the suffering of many of those under his command, dissension among his people, a postwar society rebuilding, and the looming threat of war. 

I really love how the lead human character Malcolm (Frankie Muniz Jason Clarke) serves as a mirror to Ceasar. Both him and Caesar have families they’re concerned about protecting and they want to come to an agreement, a truce, for both of their societies to continue living without conflict. They want to coexist and live in peace. That sounds very sweet, but I didn’t pay 20 bucks to watch Gorillas in the Mist. I know that at some point Koba is gonna light a mother fucker up with an assault rifle. It's a Shakespearean tragedy in every sense, meaning there's no way it can end in peace. Both sides want peace and it's right within their grasp; for the first time in this series both man and ape can communicate easily and come to a treaty. But you know it's all going to go to shit. 

There's no clear good or bad guys on either the human or ape side. Everyone has clear motivations that lead them down their path. You understand why either side would be unwilling to trust the other. If you’ve seen Rise, you know most of these apes weren’t just chilling in the jungle and got recruited by Caesar. They were broken out of labs, cages, zoos. They’ve seen the dark side of humans. They've spent their lives in labs being tested on, injected with god knows what. On the flip side, the humans have not only seen most of the world wiped out by the simian flu, but early in the film Caesar sends them a message not to come back to his home. He gathers all the apes, they put on war paint, and march into their city. A unified coalition of chimps, gorillas, and orangutans march in on horseback and Caesar speaks English to them. Humans had no fucking idea these things existed, and if I was them I would be horrified. They’re animals, what if they look around and decide they want this city? Do you think you’re gonna fight them off? If Caesar decides he wants your house, he will hop off that horse, walk over, and rip your dick off like a twig, and now Caesar owns your house and your dick. That's the end of that. Case fuckin closed. Try to explain to him that your name is on the mortgage as he windmills your severed penis in the air and then chucks it into the brush, never to be seen again.

The apes haven't seen humans in 2 years, and the first time we see one in this movie is when a guy runs into them and shoots one. Later on in the movie the same guy (I'm not going to bother checking IMDb for his name because it doesn't matter), who was supposed to have given up his gun to be allowed to stay and work on the dam, gets caught with another hidden gun and almost gets the humans beaten to death by screaming chimps. He’s the human plot device. His entire existence is predicated on pulling out guns and refusing to give his guns up. We miss you, Chuck. 

You may be thinking to yourself, why are you such a fucking idiot? Why would you bring a gun with you? The fucking talking monkey showed up with an army to your city and told you not to ever come back, then graciously allowed you to come back into his home on the grounds that you don't bring guns. Why the fucking shit would you hide a gun? Then you remember over the course of a decade he watched society crumble into anarchy and the people around him die because of something called the simian flu. When news and information can't be circulated, fear and propaganda take over, and he believes every single one of those apes is responsible for everyone he's ever loved or cared about dying in agony and the concurrent downfall of society. 

Among the dissension and mistrust is Koba, Caesar's right hand man and most trusted ally, who begins to believe Caesar is weak and becoming too fond of the humans. If you don't remember Koba, just take a look at him

He was freed from the Gensys lab and as you can tell, he has seen some serious shit. While Malcolm and Caesar's truce evolves into a friendship, Koba investigates San Francisco and finds a stockpile of guns large enough to wipe out every single ape. Man and ape have a tepid alliance, the humans are creating a small army, and there is distrust within the apes. Upon second watch, I'd be willing to bet this section of the movie drags a bit. Now that I know every beat of the movie, I'll be less patient with Malcolm's son reading a graphic novel to an orangutan. But on first viewing, knowing that all hell is going to break loose, every single scene has you thinking in the back of your head "oh shit, is this gonna be it? Is this gonna be the last straw?" 

I know good and God damn well monkeys come riding out of an explosion on horseback firing machine guns. I know the battle is coming, but who is going to be responsible?

I said this is a spoiler free review and I'm gonna keep it that way. I'm not gonna say when or why, but all hell breaks loose. And let me say here that the imagine of the apes running into civilization on horseback, weaving through flames and explosions while firing machine guns? Holy shit. I've seen Hell, and it's Koba dual wielding assault rifles and screaming.

A couple of times in the beginning of the movie I couldn't help but think since this movie takes place 10 years later and everyone from Rise is dead, it kind of feels like there's a missing movie in between. A contagion movie about civilization being wiped out rapidly and the ensuing savagery that followed. Malcolm made it clear in one scene that the only reason he was risking himself to get the power back was so his son didn't have to see the darkness - literal and metaphorical - that would follow the loss of power, and that could be an excellent movie. Imagine 28 Days Later inter cut with Caesar doing his thing, creating ape society. And then the pic above happens and I realize oh yeah, this is the movie I wanted. Cram all that shit in a prequel novel or something.  

I love the third act of this movie. My only complaint is that I feel it could be a bit longer. I'm not going to spoil anything, but I wish 15-20 minutes from the middle section were cut there and put here to allow more character development after shit hits the fan. That complaint aside, every time there's action on screen I'm 100% into it. The final fight is very original and well done as well. God dammit I don't want to spoil anything, just go see it. See it now. Stop reading this garbage and go see it. 

I guess I should probably mention Gary Oldman before this wraps up. After all, he is all over the trailers. Well, did you see Godzilla? Remember how much Bryan Cranston was in it? There you go. He’s not nearly as important as the trailers would have you believe, but he’s great whenever he’s on screen and serves more as a nice little added bonus to the movie. Like hey, not only do I get this awesome ass ape movie but I get a little extra Oldman on top? Thanks, movie.

As much as I'm gushing, the movie isn't perfect. The humans are the weakest element by far, but they're still perfectly serviceable. I remembered Caesar, Koba, and even Maurice the orangutan, but I had to look up the human character’s names. The humans do NOTHING in the end. Malcolm literally tells his family, whom we've been stuck watching this entire movie, "hey I'm gonna go into the sewers and help the monkey people bye" and leaves. And we literally don't see them again. There's a lot of exposition dialogue that feels a bit clunky and out of place. The script could've used another polishing instead of a female character blurting out "obviously we can't be infected we are all genetically immune that is why we are still alive" apropos of nothing. 

The biggest disappointment, however, was the footage from the trailer of the apes in war paint in the forest. Remember this awesome visual?

Womp womp, it's just the first scene of the movie and they're hunting deer. It's nothing more than Caesar teaching his son life lessons. It's a cool scene, but God damn do I wish it was them ambushing soldiers. 

Minor complaints aside, not once did I think of Dave Chappelle talking about fucking a monkey. That’s how immersive it was. I didn't watch these movies as I child so I don't have nostalgia and reverence for them so for me it boils down to this movie and Rise, and this is better in every way. I've heard it described as the Dark Knight or Empire Strikes Back of the Apes reboot series and I can't say I disagree. I absolutely loved this film and just want to say how great of a summer this has been. It's not every year you get so many great movies jam packed into a couple of months. Don't forget that last year we had Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel. Granted I'd take either of them over Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that's besides the point. The summer is nearing its close and this might be the best blockbuster yet. 

Just please, don't bring young kids. I'm sure they would love to see the cute little monkeys, but a large majority of this movie is subtitles, and the action is way too intense for most children. Kids want to see monkeys be cute, not get hit with rocket launchers. Your 6 year old kid will resemble the Caesar statue from Battle of the Planet of the Apes

Just in case you haven't sat through that god awful movie: yes, that statue is crying a single tear
Absolutely go out of your way to see it, but leave the little ones at home. While you're at it, just do that for every single movie ever. 

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  1. Thank you for your support in the Let's Not Have Screaming Children in Our Movies faction. It is much appreciated.

  2. Nice review Robert. A terrific summer blockbuster that has plenty of excitement, as well as drama to make things a whole lot better.

  3. I think I'll have to give this a go now. Thanks for the review.

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