From The Godfather, to the original Star Wars trilogy, to The Lord of the Rings, there have been many great trilogies made in the history of cinema. There are some that will always be brought up in the conversation, but within the last two years, a trilogy that should be near the top of the list concluded: the Planet of the Apes trilogy.
This trilogy doesn’t necessarily get a bad rap, but it flies under the radar in terms of its quality. Each installment is at least a solid A (for the record, I’d say Rise is an A, Dawn is an A+, and War is right on the line between the two).
Each of the installments hits on an important theme that you wouldn’t expect from a summer blockbuster. But they are able to highlight these themes in unique ways, as the main protagonist is a non-human character. Rise looks into animal cruelty, Dawn explores racism, and War gets into slavery and class issues. The ability of these movies to tackle these themes is part of what makes them so great. While they are acting as great action and sci-fi movies, they are still delivering important messages.
(Spoilers for the entire trilogy to follow)
In Rise, we see the beginning of Caesar’s development into the great leader and tragic hero he will become. He starts out as the son of an ape that was being experimented on, which is where he gets his accelerated intelligence and functioning from. We follow him, along with Will, the human who raises him, as they navigate this kind of life. The story is engaging all the way through. We are curious as to how this sort of paradigm shift can take place – that of apes taking over a world once dominated by humans. By the end, once Caesar tells Will that he is home, we have seen a thoroughly fulfilling arc for our main character.
But it isn’t only the story itself that is satisfying. This film begins another trend of having subtle, important messages present. Throughout the film, we see Caesar being impounded with other apes. This is when animal abuse comes into play. The worker treats the apes cruelly, as if they are inherently inferior life forms. Here, the audience almost automatically begins to side with the apes, which becomes a trend in these movies. It is hard to watch, but that’s what makes it good. It’s important. It isn’t the apes’ intelligence that causes us to side with them. It’s the fact that they are living and deserve better treatment. So once they revolt, we feel as if justice has been served to the abusers.
This is a movie that does the important job of setting the tone for a movie series. It is fairly dark, as the series will progressively get darker. But what it does best is set a high standard for the summer blockbuster. It is a standard that most films don’t meet. But its successors certainly do.