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movies / August 7, 2011

First, ask yourself the question, do you want to see a movie in which apes revolt against humanity?

If the answer’s No, ask yourself these follow-up questions: 1) Why the hell not?, and 2) What’s WRONG with you?

Apes revolting against humanity works on so many levels. Most obviously, apes are great creatures, and humans are not. It’s helpfully built right into their biological classification, “the great apes”—gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans—and in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you get to identify with the apes against humanity, as is proper.

It’s an uprising movie, and uprising movies are just what we need right now. Why on earth somebody doesn’t remake Spartacus and film the Geronimo story and take another shot at Pancho Villa and do a decent depiction of the 1916 Irish Easter Rising and the spectacularly successful Haitian slave-revolt against the French in 1804 and cinematically celebrate Nat Turner and Harriet Tubman and John Brown, I can’t imagine. But until somebody does, Rise features a chimpanzee Spartacus, at least.

Plus there’s the overt sociological angle that’s so heartwarming. The old Planet of the Apes movies did the racial allegory everyone remembers fondly, but this new “prequel” is quite a bit stretchier. The apes here are representing not only all of suffering animalhood currently getting squeezed out of existence, but all of humanity’s subjugated, shunned, and shat upon, and that’s getting to be a bigger, roomier, more self-aware global majority all the time, transcending racial categories, though God knows race is still a big ugly factor.

Therefore Rise of the Planet of the Apes can be a pretty rotten movie in many ways and still work. You have to sit through a lot of James Franco and excessively plotty meanwhile-back-at-the-lab stuff, plus a patina of sickening CGI over everything. Never mind all that. Those are the apparently necessary conditions for the ape revolt. Keep your eyes on the prize.

I saw the movie with one of those right-thinking urban audiences who are there to feel the film intensely and vocalize their response. When Caesar the chimpanzee speaks for the first time, saying “No!” in response to his jailer’s order, the whole audience said, “Whoa!” in unison. Because like Spartacus says, “When a slave says No, Rome trembles.” And when an ape says No, Rome freaks out entirely.

(Admission: Kirk Douglas as Spartacus doesn’t really say that. He actually says, “When just one man says, ‘No, I won’t,’ Rome begins to fear.” But my way’s better.)

Plot rundown: in Rise, Our Hero is Caesar the chimpanzee whose super-intelligence was lab-engineered. His mother and a dozen other chimps, the subjects in a seemingly failed experiment, are killed off, but Caesar is saved by a weedy scientist named Will Rodman (James Franco) who’s in charge of the experiment. Rodman wants to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, partly for personal reasons—his father (John Lithgow) is fading fast—and partly to curry favor with the slick nasty boss (David Oyelowo) of the evil biotech firm. Those cold, official glass-and-metal citadels aptly represent a world run by and for a loathsome exploitative elite, and inside them, the chimps in cages and strapped to lab tables whose misery drives the profits? Them are us.

So Caesar gets raised in suburbia by Rodman and his dad and, eventually, Rodman’s girlfriend (Freida Pinto, pretty but otherwise negligible). This is the waiting-around part, while Caesar slowly figures out what we already know, that humans, as a rule, are no damn good. Sure enough, Caesar winds up attacking a human who richly deserves it, and he’s hauled off to be caged in a seedy cement primate holding pen with a bunch of apes who don’t appreciate his fancy human-style duds. Rodman can’t get him out. Rodman’s useless girlfriend starts to make oh-well-maybe-it’s-for-the-best noises.

This is where things start to get good, movie-wise. Embittered Caesar has finally had enough. He acts in accordance with the famous-last-words advice of jailed union man Joe Hill, right before his execution on trumped-up charges: “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.”

Many stirring shots of Caesar in his cell plotting revolution. Andy Serkis of Gollum fame plays Caesar and presumably should get the credit for nice expressive eye-work as Caesar cogitates on the problem facing all revolutionaries: how the hell do you get a bunch of stupid primates throwing feces at each other to join forces and fight their oppressors? Leon Trotsky, Michael Collins, Nelson Mandela, they all went through the same thing.

In Caesar’s case, the solution involves getting control over the cookie-reward system at the primate pen, converting the big gorilla and the meanest chimpanzee to the cause, stealing some ape-smartening formula from the lab, learning to use weapons, etc. I feel sure Caesar’s system roughly resembles some revolutionary handbook already in existence, maybe something by Mao Tse-tung.

And when the apes get smart, it’s pretty thrilling. Nice shot of them standing together as a group, all on their hind legs, looking at their warden (Brian Cox) in an appraising way that would make a wiser man get out of the ape-imprisoning business immediately. From then on, enjoyment reigns. Apes overrun the biotech firm, apes liberate the zoo primates, apes arm themselves, apes cross the Golden Gate Bridge en masse heading for redwood forests, apes fight the cops, a gorilla takes down a helicopter…

Yeah, lots of spontaneous applause in the theater at the end, and you don’t hear that very often anymore.  May this be the first of many Uprising Movies, and may they give us all some practical ideas for future use.

 

 

 

 

 

46 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. John  |  August 8th, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Check out Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The last episode, called kill them all, is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever seen on tv.

  • 2. Pascual Gorostieta  |  August 8th, 2011 at 12:28 am

    I hate every ape I see,
    From chimpan-A to chimpanzee,
    No, you’ll never make a monkey out of me!
    O my God! I was wrong!
    It was Earth, all along!
    You’ve finally made a monkey

    Yes we’ve finally made a monkey

    Yes you’ve
    finally made a monkey out of me!
    I love you, Dr. Zaius!

  • 3. Mike  |  August 8th, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Just about any chapter from Jeremy Brecher’s Strike! would make a great film.

  • 4. Punjabi From Karachi  |  August 8th, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Here, saw this kicking around an old lefty website:

    Fear of the Animal Planet

    That book can serve as an allegory for an animal uprising.

    As for the apes, didn’t watch this movie, because the damn idea will go from “Rise of the ” to Planet of the Apes.

    And despite the Exile’s misanthropy, I do like a few human beings.

    I want to see HUMAN uprising movies though. Race is still like Eileen said, a big ugly factor, but human uprisings against oppressors; those leave me with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

  • 5. Punjabi From Karachi  |  August 8th, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Also, I wonder how you’ld rank the rebellion in Harry Potter (which ends the series). It’s a pretty bloody guerilla insurgency thing, with innocents killed, people who do good getting murder as their just desserts, a coup plus people who make the mistake of associating with a do gooder catching a death sandwich as their reward.

    Plus by the end of it, the political fraternity that allowed a fascist take over is decimated. If I remember the book correctly, there are so few “viable” political people left, because so many sided with Voldemort, that a black guy who had put himself on the line for Harry Potter ends up becoming leader of the Magical world, on a post-WWII, Clement Atlee, rebuild from the rubble basis.

  • 6. Duarte Guerreiro  |  August 8th, 2011 at 2:11 am

    Quote Troy McClure “Yes, you’ve finally made a monkey out of me!”

    I was feeling snobbish over the whole thing, but now I guess I should see it. Death to humanity!

    By the way, some of these apes are peaceful and just want to mind their own business like gorillas, but some are downright human-like vicious. Chimpanzees for example organize hunting teams that then move in a single line into the territory of other chimps without making a sound. If they find an isolated chimp from another group they beat the poor fucker to death, females and children included. The only thing missing are Pangas and a manifesto on how those chimps across the border are poisoning the stream and “takin’ r jerbs!”

  • 7. TrangleC  |  August 8th, 2011 at 6:27 am

    A good review, thanks.

    But…
    (Insert sound of soap box creaking.)
    I don’t get what is so great about apes. They share all human flaws that make some of us loathe their own species so much.
    They are aggressive, they are brutal, they make war, they rape and murder each other and their children.
    Even the seemingly gentle and harmless Orang Utan males sometimes kill babies to make the females receptive faster.

    The whole “we should be like the animals”-thing makes no sense. We are always the worst when we are most like the animals.

    It is the same with that “we should be like children”-bullshit. Children are monsters and the biggest problems were always caused by grownups who behave too much like children.

  • 8. Cernunnos  |  August 8th, 2011 at 6:49 am

    “a decent depiction of the 1916 Irish Easter Rising”

    I was going to scold you for not being aware of this movie, but I guess the events actually begin a few years after the Easter Rising. Still a good uprising flick, though.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wind_That_Shakes_the_Barley_(film)

  • 9. bokonon  |  August 8th, 2011 at 7:16 am

    I had kind of written this movie off, but your review sounds promising…

    I’m just not down with the idea that they changed the premise and took evolution out of the equation. I thought the coolest part of the original was that the apes had evolved on their own. Now with the new movie, its human intervention that made the apes what they became.

  • 10. A-Lex  |  August 8th, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Eileen, your reviews are always stingy and smart, and make a good read. With the War Nerd unmasked and, apparently, gone for good, and with other Exile writers coughing up something once in a blue moon, your pieces remain the only treat for me here. If it turns out that you are also a bearded aging guy in real life, I will do something to myself, like switch to reading the Guardian and watching Fox News.

  • 11. weird fat guy.  |  August 8th, 2011 at 8:32 am

    please stop making dumb comments on movie reviews. please. lower-case commenting is so bad.

  • 12. Flatulissom  |  August 8th, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Wow, this review almost makes me want to see this piece of shit.

    Almost.

  • 13. az  |  August 8th, 2011 at 10:14 am

    I just made an RSS feed for “what you should know” because the one here doesn’t seem to work.

    http://www.feed43.com/5558882644241867.xml

  • 14. helplesscase  |  August 8th, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Saw this movie a couple days ago. When Caesar shouts “No!’ at his jailer, the whole theater was buzzing. Good review.

  • 15. X  |  August 8th, 2011 at 10:41 am

    A-Lex,
    Sorry, but Dolan is Eileen too.

  • 16. pmx?  |  August 8th, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Dolan is Barack Obama too.

  • 17. Anarchy Wolf  |  August 8th, 2011 at 11:51 am

    So… Revolution?
    No? Again? WTF is wrong with you people?

  • 18. radii  |  August 8th, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Despite your praise for the film I will skip it … if I want to see an animated film I want it to be actual animation … CGI just annoys me to no end (am I the only one who thinks Avatar was terrible?)

    The trailer for Rise looks pretty awful to me, whether there is some good revolutionary verve in there or not … Orangutans and Gorillas wouldn’t even make it to the Golden Gate Bridge, let alone climb it – too many fruit stands along the way.

    Even Tim Burton’s terrible version at least looked better aesthetically than this.

    If audiences are cheering such amorphous revolutionary zeal from cartoon apes, then something is in the air for real (and not just the odor of CGI monkey-poo) – but will a generation (or two) that only wants to actually do anything tangible to revolt against the status quo if it is no more taxing than pressing some simulated button on their iPhone while they sit sipping a latte I have my doubts anything will come of it other than applause and shouts for a mediocre CGI film about revolution

  • 19. Aaron  |  August 8th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    X: Dolan is everyone who posts here except Ames and Levine, I figure. Don’t know why he’s so shy about it, except maybe he’s trying to get a straight job so he can pay the bills, in which case God help him.

  • 20. allen  |  August 8th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Good review. I wanted to see this movie anyway, despite my disliking CGI a lot. It has been a terrible summer for films, and the premise of this movie is fun.

    Although I do agree with 7# on romanticizing Animals. Humans may be more lousy than decent, and most adult humans are too much like children to raise them (but they do anyway fucking us all over), but they are at least interesting animals. Other animals are just instinct machines; they can’t be decent or rotten. They just are.

  • 21. RanDomino  |  August 8th, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Between this and Conan, this is a good month in movies for Anarcho-Barbarianist Pro-Revolutionism.

  • 22. ariot  |  August 8th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    It was missing the social commentary of the early film version(s).

    My wife, who isn’t from the US and had never seen or heard of any “Planet of the Apes” asked me when we left if it was hinting at slavery or civil rights. I told her, kind of, but not nearly as clearly as the early movies (late 60s, early 70s).

    I was really shocked at how the theater erupted when Caesar shouted “No!” since I live in a hyper conservative deep red area of the US now.

    Really though, the early films and this one were mostly about milking us of our money and providing us a distraction from the drudgery.

    But yeah. Revolution!

  • 23. super390  |  August 8th, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    The only monsters we have ever known have been human beings. Murderers and rapists are not monsters, they’re normal scumbags and many of us are capable of becoming one. Monsters are the ones who plan wars knowing that their soldiers are statistically certain to murder and rape civilians, but hide behind the excuse that they didn’t order them to. Monsters are the ones who know that malnutrition guarantees the reduced IQ of the children of the poor, but then tell their partisans that the poor need to be terrorized by hunger into becoming “more like us”. Monsters are the ones who become billionaires by exploiting, cultivating and even manufacturing our cravings into destructive mania.

    And I haven’t even gotten to religion yet. Animals can’t be monsters; they haven’t invented any Gods to impose on the less fortunate.

  • 24. super390  |  August 8th, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Huh, so Hollywood is not making movies about uprisings against

    a. The world’s only superpower (Rome)
    b. A despised, racist oppressor who claims to be democratic (Britain)
    c. A right-wing dictatorship exploiting a 3rd World populace at the behest of foreign investors (everyone who invested in Porfirio Diaz).
    d. the slaveowners who preceded the Duvaliers and other Haitian dictators backed by a certain country.
    e. the slaveowners of that certain country.

    So America refuses to make movies about countries’ uprisings against countries like America. Wow.

    Question is, how fast will those enthusiastic audiences’ approval reverse when “apes” are replaced by actual non-US human beings fighting US authority figures, thereby knocking out the audience members from vicariously living as the abstract rebel to having to stand with the oppressor? Half of them still believe that we meant well in Iraq and Vietnam.

  • 25. my talkative ringpiece  |  August 9th, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Humans are beautiful.

    Think about which you’d rather see naked: A chimpanzee, a gorilla, an orang. It’s no wonder they have all that hair, talk about being designed by a committee.

    The “apes” in this movie represent natural, tribal, see-through-the-bullshit humans.

    Real humans kick ass. We’re just about half legs. And cool looking legs too. We can swim- and well, too. Then run more than a mile, then climb a tree. We can concentrate and follow an antelope for 3 days. We can track. We can think and PLAN. We’re masters at throwing. And at ganging up. To put it simply, we fucking rule.

    And that’s the problem. We are such superflyingratswhocanrunamileandswimandliveonanything, that we’re natural prey for uber-organisms like “banks”, and “corporations” and “religions” and so on.

    Thank Gawd (ha ha!) Nature bats last. When I was in high school I read a book called Walkabout, it’s haunted me since. Since then I’ve heard they made it into a movie.

  • 26. Cum  |  August 9th, 2011 at 6:55 am

    I came here to say that the final episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand is the most satisfying season finale of any show that I’ve seen. The slaves rise up and slaughter every member of the local aristocracy. What a bloodbath.

  • 27. Cum  |  August 9th, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Sorry, one more comment: Andy Serkis said that those ARE NOT his eyes, though everybody thinks they are.

  • 28. Destro  |  August 9th, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Jeebus! Is the only way to make Americans think of a revolution against the systen that raped them to use CGI monkeys as the protagonists? Hey, stupid Americans – you are the caged chimps. Get to revolting already.

  • 29. Tollett Doe  |  August 9th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    don’t you hate it when weird psychos living in their parents’ converted attic sit there and type up fucked up anonymous comments? lots of those types out there

  • 30. Hussayn Khariq  |  August 9th, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    John Sayles ‘Matewan’ is an awesome depiction of an uprising. ‘Lion of the Desert’ (Anthony Quinn as Libyan leader Omar Mukhtar) is sorta good.

  • 31. ☭ mouse ☭  |  August 9th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    @25 this is stupid. If humans ‘fucking rule’ so much then why do we have wisdom teeth that would kill us early before we had medical technology, appendixes to rupture etc. (just to mention the most obvious problems)? Not to mention we get just plain get infected and killed super easy.

  • 32. TeaPartier  |  August 9th, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I thought this movie was going to be about the Tea Partiers!

  • 33. my talkative ringpiece  |  August 9th, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Mouse (how to you make those cool little hammer and sickle things?) apes get all the stuff we do. They get dental abscesses. They get viruses, They get worms. Every animal has a host of parasites, diseases, etc. to make its life miserable.

    Because I’ve not seen this movie and probably am not going to see it, I’m going to analyze it! It’s about the working class, those raised in a village and now slaving in a factory, etc., against the oligarchy, the machine-people who’ve never baited a fish hook, etc.

    Gorillas are cool and baboons look awesome, but humans are my favorite ape.

  • 34. A Silver Mt. Paektu  |  August 9th, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    One of the best things about this movie is that it doesn’t get too bogged down in the fuzzy liberalism Amerikan progressives like to ruin revolutionary impulses with. Sure, Caesar does what he can to keep the apes from slaughtering humans wholesale, and the sequel-ready conflict between C and Koba (Stalin’s alias as a young insurrectionist bankrobber) over how to deal with the humans is present, but C lets K do what has to be done at times and the movie pretty blatantly forwards an authoritarian revolutionary politics. Caesar is the largely undisputed alpha, he uses the fasces to explain the importance of unity to the circus Orangutan, the shot of Caesar’s closed fist grasping the truncheon is played triumphantly rather than ominously, etc. Good stuff.

    1. Yes, yes, and yes. “Blood and Sand” is awesome proletarian entertainment. It has boobs and gore aplenty to keep it interesting, but doesn’t shy away from examining the effects oppression has on shaping the revolutionary subject. It also does a great job illustrating the irredemeable decadence and corruption of the ruling class. Any viewer who isn’t a total asshole is ready for a righteous massacre by the season finale.

    30. Yes to you too. “Matewan” is solid pro-union cinema. Required viewing for all would-be revolutionaries and RAT-FOCRS.

  • 35. Victorvalley Villain  |  August 10th, 2011 at 11:07 am

    @33, easiest way is to copy and paste it. Save it to a notepad file for easy re-call.

  • 36. noen  |  August 10th, 2011 at 11:18 am

    The sheep look up.

  • 37. Mad Props  |  August 10th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Madd proppz to the Exiled censor.

    “weird fat guy” is exactly what I think when I read a lowercase comment, especially one of those execrable underpunctuated ones.

    Salut!

    [The Exiled Censor responds, "Make me burnt offerings and yea, ye shall be rewarded, so saith the Exiled Censor, the Lord Our Improver, King of the Comments Universe, His wrath is terrible, His covenant deeply annoyingeth."]

  • 38. Bannaman  |  August 10th, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    #31 We have wisdom teeth to replace the 4 adult teeth that would have rotted out of our head during adolescence without effective dentistry. Seriously they are an extra set of teeth and would have pushed the others forward closing up gaps under natural conditions.

    We have an appendix to store gut bacteria incase they get wiped out by a good bout of the runs/some horrible stomach infection.

    We are evolved to be very resilient and persistent creatures adjusted for a short and brutal life with rotten teeth.

  • 39. Bannaman  |  August 10th, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    So we get this review and immediately afterward we see British cities on fire.

    There is a joke in there about chimps and chaves but I’m not gonna make it. I just gonna congratulate provocateurs like Banksy on what they have done with stupid feces throwing primates.

  • 40. DrunktankDan  |  August 11th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Eileen ain’t Dolan. I’m sure she doesn’t mind the comparison (who the fuck would?), but I remember Ames saying something way back when about her being a film prof at University of Too Lazy to Look it Up.

  • 41. A Silver Mt. Paektu  |  August 11th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Anyone who thinks Jones is Dolan needs to take a look at her output during the year the good doctor was in assfuck Kurdistan doing his damnedest to keep The eXiled at arms length.

    Jones was reviewing a couple first-run flicks a month when Dolan barely had reliable Internet access. She ain’t he.

  • 42. TrangleC  |  August 11th, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    @ 31. ☭ mouse ☭:

    All those physical problems animals have too. The only problem we humans have that they don’t have is that we grow much older than we are supposed to be.

    From the perspective of the genes dying at the age of 30 from a rotten tooth or something like that is not a big problem when you have procreated somewhere around your 12th to 15th birthday, as would be normal if we had no culture and civilisation that forced us to wait till we had enough time to build up financial safety before having kids.

    Other animals simply die before the things you listed can cause them much problems. That doesn’t make them superior in any way.

    @ 24. super390:

    Yesterday I saw “Super 8″ and I noticed one thing:
    It was the first contemporary movie I have seen since 9/11 that portrayed American soldiers as assholes and villains and showed one of the heroes punching and knocking out an US soldier.

    In the last 10 years some movies portrayed US soldiers as antagonists to the movie’s heroes and main characters, but always as basically well-meaning antagonists who can be rough but only do their jobs. (example 1: The soldiers in Cloverfield who menace the heroes with guns and incarcerate them, but only for their own good. Example 2: The Hulk movies where you see the military fight the hero, but only to protect the innocent while the real assholes are sleazy scientists or at the most power-hungry individuals within the military who exploit decent soldiers.)

    “Super 8″ was the first one in a long time that made the US military look like real assholes who deserve to be resisted.

    Whether that is only due to the fact that the movie is a throwback and tries to emulate old adventure movies from the 70s and early 80s or whether that truly marks a return to a more ballsy and distant relationship of Hollywood to the military, remains to be seen.

  • 43. Dimitri Ratz  |  August 13th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I’ve seen this movie before your review was published, and cannot say there is Karma your way for my experience. The movie is pretty bad when the only good actor in the movie, Caesar, is wearing an ape costume. Me and my son liked the old planet of the apes movies and even more recent one and even if this movie wasn’t great figured it still would be all right. We were very wrong. Me and my son were relieved when the fat blonde scientist died of the virus, one less bad actor to watch. The story totally didn’t go into the villain in the cage house, or make any connection, not even on a level of I Know What You Did Last Summer. The Ape scenes are cool, but most of which you can see in commercial. Seeing tree leaves falling properly for 2 minutes, and Caesar spearing the car from the zoo fence fencing metal does not justify paying for a movie ticket. Eileen Jones reviews were like those fortune tellers seers from Roman times giving the destiny of the path. After reading this review I’m at total loss as to what Cowboys and Aliens holds in store….

  • 44. Brontoburger  |  August 16th, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    This is the first Eileen Jones-recommended movie I’ve seen that sucked. Damn near unwatchable.

  • 45. Danny Boy  |  August 18th, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    “Also, I wonder how you’d rank the rebellion in Harry Potter (which ends the series). It’s a pretty bloody guerrilla insurgency thing”

    The last Potter film is counter-revolutionary. The revolutionaries are designed as an inhuman evil. The establishment prevails and is morally vindicated.

    Look at it more carefully. The Right and Good deny young people self-expression and imagination (the use of magic), the Hero is left to the tender mercies of child abusers ‘for his own protection’ and ultimately agrees with his treatment. The students who are the novel’s general population are lorded over by masters that are either incompetent or sadistic. Bloodsport is officially sanctioned. Minor crime and disobedience is punished with life imprisonment and torture. It’s a ruthless medieval world of thoughtless brutality and inequality. And those that resist are the worst villains.

    There’s a great breakdown of the conservative values of the Potter franchise in this article:

    http://www.theawl.com/2010/11/harry-potter-and-the-incredibly-conservative-aristocratic-childrens-club

  • 46. andrew  |  August 23rd, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    on basis of this review we went to see it – just as jones said, the audience gasped when caesar spoke, and clapped at the end; actually they cheered, when some guy yelled, “hail caesar”.

    the human/science side of the plot was almost completely retarded, but the apes/caesar side was downright inspiring. it was the best apes movie since ’68, easily.


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