Ten years after a deadly simian virus wipes out populations and collapses economies and countries, only a small band of immune human survivors remain. They brush up against Caesar, the genetically modified ape from the first movie, and his band of primates, who live in the forest outside of San Francisco. Caesar warns that the apes don’t want war but they also don’t want intruders – the humans are to stay away, or the apes will defend their home. But of course the humans won’t stay away. They need access to a hydroelectric dam that just happens to be smack in the middle of ape territory.
Caesar grants Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and co the necessary access, provided they remain unarmed, but humans can’t do that either. But it’s an ape with a grudge who really gets things going – he sets fire to his own settlement and frames the humans for Caesar’s death.
Critics called this the summer’s best popcorn film, but that’s not saying much considering this was the summer of the stinkiest Transformers movie to date. I will say that it bests 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes; it’s more assertive, more sure of itself, and more clearly guides us to where we all know we’re going.
Andy Serkis as Caesar is as good as ever. In fact, all the apes are so strongly turned out that they make the human characters pale in comparison. I felt a very real dread the first time I saw an ape on a horse with an automatic weapon in hand. The apes have gone guerrilla. So there’s a certain philosophy that permeates the movie – even Caesar must confront his own naive believe that apes are “better” than humans – because they certainly seem to be adopting an awful lot of the culture they so disdain. While the 2011 film had us discussing medical experimentation and all it entails, the 2014 film has us pondering supremacy, vengeance, forgiveness. And maybe even ambivalence, which is what I felt toward this film. A lot of interesting parts still left me feeling not quite there. But maybe that’s part of the journey. There is 1968’s Planet of the Apes, and we haven’t come full circle yet, but we’re getting there fast.