So I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes recently. Pretty awesome movie. Not my “favorite film of the year” – let alone best sci-fi of the year, as Snowpiercer already claimed that position last week – like I know other people are saying, but it’s pretty damn close. Unlike the How to Train Your Dragon sequel, this was the Empire-level raise in stakes from an already awesome film that needed to happen. It built off of what happened in the first film whilst mostly being its own thing, and its own thing happened to be fucking awesome, going into aspects regarding the casualties of war without falling into the obnoxiousness that usually categorizes said stories.
Now I know what you’re probably saying? What exactly did an Apes movie do for you that Gundam failed to accomplish? Well for starters, I’m way more biased towards wars between humans and non-humans than I am with just humans with mechas vs. humans with…um…mechas. But believe you me, if Caesar had walked amongst the middle of the war to declare that it accomplishes nothing, only to get shot by somebody, I would have ranked the film a much lower score. Unless your film is Nausicaa, that sort of shit isn’t going to impress me.
Well just like Rise (spoilers from here on out), the main draw is Caesar and how he struggles to be leader of the apes whilst maintaining affection for humanity. But it’s where the film goes with his inner conflicts that elevates the material from a decent film to an awesome one. It’s not simply “war is bad” that Dawn wants to tell us. It’s that “war is inevitable”. The act is still bad accomplishes nothing in the end, but there are times when you can’t avoid conflict because circumstances just won’t allow it. It’s kind of like a mix of Joyeux Noel’s “humanity on both sides” stuff mixed with the Evangelion Rebuild’s themes of how you can’t escape failure and destruction because the world won’t let you.
Obviously war was inevitable considering this is a prequel to Planet of the Apes and if the apes don’t wipe out humanity, the original classic wouldn’t exist. But as I said before, it’s how the movie goes across with the whole “inevitable” thing that makes it work so well. By having Caesar once again learn what it’s like to love humans after ten years with Malcolm and his family and trying to reach a steady compromises between the two sides so that they can both live in peace, it makes it that much more tragic that despite loving Malcolm to the very end, he can do nothing more but wish for Malcolm’s safety whilst he prepares his army for a huge conflict with the military. Yes, the conflict was incited by a massive dick who betrays his leader, so there’s a little bit of good vs. evil mixed in to move the plot along, but that’s ultimately inconsequential to the big picture, both to the audience and the characters in the film. Plus, the dick was motivated by fear and past tortures, so there’s some complexity within him too, let alone Gary Oldman’s character.
I’ve been finding out a lot about my feelings on war dramas since I started the blog. I went from disliking the genre, but wanting to give acclaimed anime a chance despite my dislike for it because they were acclaimed (Gundam, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Simoun…none of which I liked) to absolutely hating the genre to the point that I’m ignoring my colleague’s cries that “No really. Argevollen and this installment of Gundam is awesome” to wondering what it was about Fullmetal Alchemist, Code Geass, and Ghibli films that made me love them despite my dislike for the genre ever since my school showed me Alamo movies (even though my interest in the first two have decreased massively over time). Whilst I can’t say much for the former two at this point, I still love some of Ghibli’s more serious output like Nausicaa, Princess Mononoke, and Grave of the Fireflies, as well as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, due to two things: I love the message and I love how it’s conveyed.
Those two ingredients are really necessary for me – and most people really – to enjoy anything. “War is inevitable” is one of the only things associated with the genre that I can enjoy. However, if Dawn’s theme wasn’t being conveyed through apes and humans fighting each other and was done through, say, the cast of Call of Duty, I wouldn’t care about the film nearly as much. There might be some Gundam installments that convey that message, but telling it through real robots and missiles isn’t something I care about nearly as much as when it’s told through Miyazaki moeblobs and Eldritch Abominations. Pretty sure Legend of the Galactic Heroes does it too – at least with Yang Wenli and Reinhard – but yeah, I’m not a fan of the whole Star Trek thing and long long long length you have to go through to appreciate it. That and the narrator. That guy needs to die.
Let’s wrap this up by going back to Dawn. It’s a great movie that really justifies this reboot and don’t be surprised if it ends up in my top 5 films of 2014. Although I actually kind of doubt that because 2014 has been a shockingly awesome year for movies, even if it’s mostly sequels. If you’re not a fan of Rise, I’d still recommend you see the movie at least once. It’s great sci-fi with a great message that it neither holds back nor exploits to the point that I consider it the standard that all “sci-fi with an agenda” should follow. Hopefully Aldnoah Zero comes close to its level.
PS: I know the plot is very similar to Battle of the Planet of the Apes and isn’t that surprising to people who’ve seen it. I haven’t seen that movie, as I said before, so I can’t make any comparisons to it.