August 24th, 2019

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ***1/2


“America: Love it or Leave it.”

That’s a good idea for a bumper sticker. But it isn’t true. One of the many great things about the United States is that you don’t really have to choose. You can do neither. I’ll bet there are a solid 100 million people out there who don’t especially love America but certainly don’t have any intention of leaving.

A wise man once said: “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in – to prevent them from leaving us.”

President Kennedy (or at least the dude who wrote that speech for him) brilliantly encapsulated the fundamental difference between our side and their side. And why the democratic world would inevitably triumph and the communist world would ultimately crumble.

It’s easy to find fault with our country and our government. I’ve done it many times in this column. But I have never been oppressed. I’ve been free to leave the country my entire adult life but never considered doing so.

The United States is so terrific that Americans don’t truly understand what oppression is. That’s where the surprisingly educational, surprisingly dark blockbuster “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” comes in.

The film shows us how a peaceful, free society erodes into oppression: it’s with the dehumanization of hated minority groups, militarization, and loyalty that is forced at gunpoint.

The film tells the continuing story of the intelligent ape Caesar. When we last saw him at the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Caesar had just given every primate in the Bay Area a brain serum. And he led his army of smart simians across the Golden Gate Bridge into the forests to start a society.

“Dawn” takes place years later. Caesar’s ape society has flourished while human civilization has been mostly wiped out by a viral plague.

When some hapless apes stumble upon armed humans in their forest, conflict between the two species is inevitable.

Director Matt Reeves does a great job of showing how pacifists and peacekeepers get drowned out by the clear, convincing calls to war. And that the hawks on both sides always use the same tactics: they call the enemy race subhuman and they label anyone who doesn’t join the fight a traitor.

Through the character of Caesar, Reeves explores the dark journey that a leader has to take during wartime. Caesar is a likable, patient, wise, decent man(/ape). But the movie shows the depressing scenario of when a peace-loving leader is backed into a corner. He has only two choices: get dirty or get destroyed.

The film’s only weakness is that there aren’t any human characters as interesting or three-dimensional as Caesar.

In the end, “Dawn of the Planet of Apes” does an amazing job of showing how a society of free people can become oppressed by their government. To many people around the world, it is reality. To us, it’s just an interesting afternoon at the movies.

Thanks again, America!

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