Cowboys and Apes

If I’m remembering my Planet of the Apes lore correctly, the original movies had Ape society modeled on a sort of European Medieval Feudalism, with a fairly strict class structure, including Jesuits and Knights along with scientists and foot soldiers. In the current reboot, specifically Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the Apes are basically Native Americans in a cheesy Western. They speak pidgin English, they ride bareback, they stampede elks over cliffs and fight grizzly bears mano a mano. They are your basic Comanche stereotype, even speaking their choppy English to each other (!) when not using actual sign language. They have more in common as well. They’re up against General Custer and his merry men under seige, who are loaded with a massive armory, know how to blow things up real good, can Indian-hate with the best of them, and feature at most one woman at a time whose only role is supportive helpmeet and all around wannabe perfect chick, down to her surgical skills when required (to save a male) as well as attempted nurturing of the autistic step-son. Top cowboy is your basic MacGyver version, able to leap tall buildings with a single roll of string and somehow roll out just enough cable wire to connect San Francisco to a defunct hydro-electric dam on Mount Tamalpais. With a staple gun and some boulder-shifting, he manages to make the lights go up in the city, the jukebox play, and save the day at they very last moment before all hell breaks loose and things turn to shit. This happens (spoilers!) because it turns out that the only bad injun is a sneaky, traitorous lying injun (whose followers are so ignorant and inept they willingly turn into vicious monsters en masse or peace-loving cave-dwellers just as en masse depending on which leader they decide to bow down before at any given moment, he naturally being the strongest with the biggest dick).

Indians, er Apes, can be lawyer-like too, finding a wonderful loophole in their only commandment (ape shall not kill ape) by conveniently reclassifying precisely who qualifies as “ape” whenever it suits them.

There must be a natural law of second-generation creativity, akin to entropy, wherein copies of all originals tend to devolve into crap if not outright farce.

Or is it a generational thing, where one person’s futurism becomes the next one’s nostalgia? A writer with genuine vision sees the franchise turned over by corporate overlords to a movie director raised on John Wayne and the Lone Ranger.

We’re worn out with dystopias now. The original Planet of the Apes came around at a time when dystopias were rather fresh and refreshing. Nuclear nightmare scenarios were just off the boat, pre-detente and all that. The thing hadn’t been done quite to death yet – that distant future after we ruined everything when we get another chance to fuck it all up again. What was nice about the original was that it was really okay that the Apes got a chance. We had ours, then they had theirs. See what good it does them!

The pretty people didn’t have to win all the time like they do these days.

And at least the old version had a female character of significance (Vera), even if it only had two women in it (the other being the literally dumb babe). This new one has only Keri Russell’s occasional appearance to heal the sick, console the strong, worry over the weak, and basically be everybody’s sexy background mom. It’s unfortunate and seriously there is no reason why many of the male roles could not have been female (human and ape alike), no reason at all. Can they not string wire? Can they not shoot guns? Can they not swing from trees? Can they not shimmy and shake? Movies have got to get to the point where people are people and it doesn’t fucking matter what gender they are, what they look like, what they wear, what they sound like, what their name is or their sexuality or the color of their hair or their skin or their eyes, because we can all be anything that any of us can be and it really should be obvious to everyone by now.

 

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