[WARNING!!! WARNING!!! I REPEAT, WARNING!!! Spoilers for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, mostly just the first fifteen minutes.]
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, apart from having one of the most confusing titles I’ve ever seen, is also just brilliant. There’s so much I could say about this movie, and the series as a whole. Its bananas how good they are. Not only in the way they tell a brand new story, but in the way they ape the classics as well. They’re masterful at creating empathy not just with the animals but with the human’s, who it could be argued are much harder to root for. There’s not a wooden actor in sight.
But for now, I’m going to focus on a single, minute long scene, right near the beginning of the film. After a pacey, exciting set up that gets us acquainted with our primate cast, it’s just about time to introduce the humans. A lone man approaches from the woods, seeing our two lovable apes. They eye each other for what seems like forever, and a lifetime of expressions run across the ape’s faces. They’re confused, and scared, and amazed all at the same time, an incredible achievement in itself, I mean, they’re performance capture monkeys for god’s sake! But then the human draws out a gun, and he points it towards the apes, but he won’t shoot them because it’s just a silly movie about monkeys and-
Oh god. What the hell. How could they- I mean it’s- What? Seriously?
How very human. We turn up into these lovely monkeys little home and already we’ve ruined it. Of course we have. Of course. Humans are dicks. Humans are the worst. I hope these monkeys turn up and rip the stupid head of this human!
Just like that, the film makes it a story of us and them, a story of sides, a story of good guys and bad guys. We want the apes to win whatever fight is bound to happen. We want them to win and we want them to win well. We hate the humans. We fucking hate them.
But the reason this scene is so smart is because of the details. It’s one human we see. Just a single, solitary man. The film hasn’t ever actually said it’s going to be humans verses apes. All it has done is show us one human, and a bunch of apes, and when that one human is so clearly the worst the first thing we do is decide they’re all like that. Decide we’re all like that.
Because the film knows how we work. It knows how audiences work, and it knows how people in general work too. It knows we judge, and we hate, and we fight, even when we don’t have nearly enough evidence to back those decisions up. It knows we’ll be out for blood once a man has shot our fluffy little friends. It knows. So it manipulates us, it treats this scene like the outcome is chance, like in another world these monkeys could carry on monkeying around and everything would be great, if it wasn’t for us evil humans.
Then it spends the rest of the film deconstructing that.
There are more humans. They’re not all evil. There are even apes that are evil. That’s the genius of this scene. That’s what it pulls off so well. It taps into our innate fiery anger, then spends two hours explaining why we should maybe hang on a just second before we start hating whole big groups of people just because we saw one of them do something horrible once. One person can never represent the masses, and it’s not fair to judge any group based on the first member you see. Always, always, gibbon the benefit of the doubt.
Which is about two percent of the reason Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is so great. There is so, so much more worth talking about with this film. God it’s good! Argh! I imagine I’ll be back typing away about my favourite monkeys soon. For now, though, goodbye Caeser. I hope the next film treats you well.