This summer has been fairly generous as far as movies go. Sure we’ve had Michael Bay’s next explosion-fest “Transformers” movie, but we’ve also had some gems, like “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” both of which I’m glad to have caught in theaters. I’ve also heard good things about the adaptation of “The Fault In Our Stars” (I’m a huge nerd if you can’t tell). And in the coming months, I’m looking forward to “Guardian of the Galaxies.” This summer really seems to be mixing things up from the typical post-9/11 disaster-action movies we’ve been seeing. So why does my mind keep coming back to the new “Planet of the Apes” movie?
Remakes are notoriously tricky, especially when adapting one of the most iconic science fiction movies of all time. Having seen the original “Planet of the Apes” and loving it (as well as seeing bits of its sequels), I was a little skeptical of the 2011 reboot of the franchise. I was worried it would be just another generic summer action movie. The finished product was certainly good, nothing mind-blowing, but a thoroughly competent film. Actually, I think it was at its best when NOT trying to mimic scenes from the original movies; I might be in the minority on this view.
Regardless the quality of the film, its ending had set up something interesting. It seemed the apes were going to form their own society in the forest, possibly coexisting with the humans. I remember thinking to myself how this could make a much more interesting franchise than any faithful reboot could. Perhaps the sequel could explore the implications of a society with two separate species trying to live together. There wouldn’t have to be war for domination. There wouldn’t have to be an ape society enslaving humans. This could be interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I love the original movie, but I think a new direction could be a welcome gesture for a modern audience.
Despite my hopes, I was cynical of what the next movie would have in store. I figured “of course the apes are going to take over; the directors need to be faithful and not take any risks with their material.” However, I was shocked, bewildered, flabbergasted, when the trailers finally hit YouTube and my expectations were challenged. It seems, at least from the footage I’ve seen, that they might actually be going through with my hopes.
So here’s the scenario: the simian virus created in the last movie has wiped out a large chunk of humanity. The remaining humans have spent the last four years fighting each other (over resources, perhaps?). Meanwhile, the apes have built their own fledgling society and are living peacefully in the forest. Right off the bat, I assumed this would be a tale similar to Avatar or Pocahontas, where the apes (natives, blue cat aliens) would be the peaceful race with the evil humans coming to take their land/freedom/lives, cue monologue of how humanity is evil, we’ve seen it a hundred times. But to my surprise, all of the characters in the trailer seem to be showing something I haven’t seen in movies in a while: complexity.
There are hawks and doves on both sides. Caesar just wants his apes to live in peace, but some in his ranks want to fight the humans. Likewise, it seems our protagonist just wants to coexist, but others are looking to blame the apes for the virus and start a war. In short, people (and apes) are scared and confused and caught between the instinct to survive and care for one another and the impotent anger at their situations. It’s a deep take on a fundamentally silly idea.
I often find that stories of this nature can generally be broken into three categories: humans are awesome, humans are monsters, and everyone is terrible (this last one can be best represented by the thoughts of the me from five or six years ago). The new Planet of the Apes trailer seems to show a different path: people are complex and some look to blame others while others try to pursue peace. Despite the action depicted in the trailers, the basic dispute of the movie seems to be headed in a much more complicated direction than your typical blockbuster. Perhaps this is a side effect of Game of Thrones’ complex characters or maybe it is simply a welcome change in an industry that, let’s face it, seems to be stagnating a bit. Thankfully, this trailer offers something that a lot of moviemakers might dismiss as naïve or sappy: optimism. Not the kind of plastic “good wins over evil” optimism from the eighties, but a genuine “though the road is hard and complicated, we can all find the path to peace” kind of optimism I’ve been missing. And frankly, with the way the country, and indeed the world, is right now, I think we could all use this sort of optimism.
Or maybe the movie will devolve into a war and they’ll follow the original storyline without taking a risk. But hey, maybe that’s just me being cynical.