War for the Planet of the Apes: Is America afraid apes are more human than man?
I drafted this blog piece before the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, in which white supremacists chanted and marched. The points I make below are more relevant and applicable in light of that event.
War for the Planet of the Apes is probably going to be the best film franchise of this decade. And that is pretty much undisputed. I will go even further and say it just might be the best science fiction trilogy ever for reasons I explain below.
Other big action franchises like Transformers, Avengers, and Iron Man don’t touch the Apes in quality. Michael Bay’s overuse of explosives as a substitute for actual plot doesn’t qualify for good filmmaking. And the Avengers’ efforts at storytelling are solid, not amazing.
Yet all of those movies (sadly) blew Apes away in box office office receipts. Spiderman Homecoming‘s opening weekend made almost twice as much as Apes made opening weekend. Why?
Could it be that parents think it’s “not for children“? While I agree with RottenTomatoes that it’s not for kids under 11 or 12, older kids can handle the violence and death. Especially if they can listen to the profanity in Spiderman, watch a Transformer dog hump Meghan Fox’s leg, or salivate over Meghan Fox’s half-covered ass leaning over a motorcycle in Transformers 2.
No really, why did Apes get beat out by mindless franchises like Fast and Furious? Could it be the dumbing down of society? Hot bodies and explosions draw bigger audiences than good action and rich plot? The latest Fast and Furious release broke box office opening records. It even crushed the latest Star Wars installment.
“A lot of what drags movies like The Avengers down is the plot, and Fast & Furious isn’t trying to compete with those heavy, convoluted storylines. This is just cars smashing into each other and it’s okay to enjoy that.”
Film Critic Rhianna Dillon, quoted in bbc.com.
Oh. So “those heavy, convoluted storylines” force people to think too hard.
But is sheer stupidity the biggest reason people skipped Apes? My guess is no.
I’m guessing it’s fear.
It’s the ape. Long maligned as the lowly, stupid ancestor of humankind, he finally faces down the power and arrogance of his human oppressor. It’s easily a metaphor for American slavery and Moses leading the Hebrews from Egypt. The Apes‘ Caesar is more human than most humans. This ape is a better human than most humans. Caesar – a supposed monster and a beast- has so much integrity he’s christlike. The mutant struggle of X-Men simply doesn’t reach the higher levels of tension and emotion that Apes takes us to.
The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Jason Bourne series are, in my opinion, the only other franchises that come close to such compelling action storytelling. X-Men and Wolverine (especially the latest releases with Days of Future Past and powerful Logan) get an honorable mention. All awesome films.
But only War for the Planet of the Apes has gotten better with each movie – more intense, visceral, aesthetic and intellectual. Matt Reeves gives painstaking detail to human concepts of family, rivalry, betrayal, fear, hatred and revenge, among apes. Christopher Nolan’s final Dark Knight Rises gave us a solid action film. But it doesn’t touch the levels and facets of apes yanking man from his perch atop the food chain. Understandably, ape beasts rising above their white human rivals might be too much symbolism and metaphor for even the most well-meaning whites to handle.
(I keep saying white moviegoers because they make up the majority of filmgoers.)
To be honest there aren’t many good movies anymore that literally keep your heart pumping from start to finish. That are written with so much depth, tension and twists, you cannot leave for popcorn or the bathroom. When was the last you saw a movie that does that? Especially a sequel. But yet Caesar has probably cemented himself as one of the greatest heroes in movie history. And he won’t get the recognition because he’s a monkey.
So that leads to the question, does this kind of disruptive power scare white men? You think I’m race-baiting? Go read white guys’ discussion threads. Go check out their profile photos of Hitler, and read their lamenting about making a pro-white film version of Apes.
***UPDATE*** The previous paragraph becomes a more pertinent question in light of Charlottesville.
Caesar has possibly topped Charlton Heston (“Moses”) as one of the greatest heroic figures in film history. And he’s not getting his due, because he’s a monkey.
Fair enough. Like the woman said above, too much plot could be a drag when you go to a movie to forget. So then, how did plot-heavy WWII pic Dunkirk do better?
Maybe War for the Planet of the Apes needs a more popular director behind it like Christopher Nolan? Or maybe it’s hard to promo a movie when audiences can’t actually see a famous actor’s face attached to it? I’m really trying hard to think of some legit marketing factors typically required to push a film in this day and age.
Or is it that, in the age of Trump, many white audiences don’t want to sit through a movie in which they fall? In which their big military missiles and guns can’t save them from primal unity? Can people who cheer for Trump’s barbarism accept apes with more humanity and courage than they? Can many in white America leave their cocoon to face a world in which they become the minority? Or don’t exist at all?