Opinion: Is ‘Planet of the Apes’ a left-wing apologia or a right-wing screed?

Andy Serkis as Caesar in a scene from the film "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes."
(Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / AP)

Is “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” a leftist’s dream movie -- or a right-wing farrago of sexism, racism and even speciesism worthy of, oh, Mel Gibson?

Let’s see what the primate blockbuster’s messages could be:

On the left, we have:

1. Gun control.

Here’s Katey Rich swooning at Vanity Fair:

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is great summer entertainment, but it’s also a spectacularly effective antigun P.S.A.

“That’s not to say the movie doesn’t feature guns, or even some thrillingly noisy action sequences. As a surprisingly soulful and meditative film, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not about the heroism of battle, but even braver efforts toward peace. And the moment that peace breaks down, over and over again, comes when guns are introduced into the mix. It’s not even a well-armed-humans-vs.-primitive-apes situation -- eventually the apes are the ones with all the firepower -- but an ongoing demonstration that, any time guns are introduced into a powder keg, it is bound to explode.


“The very first conflict in the film is eerily, depressingly similar to the way humans shoot each other every day -- a man walking through the forest is startled by the arrival of two apes, and out of fear, he shoots one of them.”

Right, because every single day some guy walks out into the forest and shoots somebody or other.

2. Trashing San Francisco.

Lefties used to love San Francisco. It had old houses, eccentrics and famously tolerant “San Francisco values.” Remember “If you’re going to San Francisco / Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”?

Now, though, lefties hate the place. That’s because tech-industry moguls from Silicon Valley discovered it and drove real estate prices so high that eccentrics can’t afford to live there anymore. So, as Nathan Heller recently reported for the New Yorker, they launch attacks on the “Google buses” that ferry tech employees south to the Valley, they knock Google glasses off the faces of hapless wearers and they stand outside booing and hissing when tech people hold events in San Francisco auditoriums.

Never fear, though. In “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” San Francisco gets its comeuppance and then some.

Variety film critic Guy Lodge observes:

“San Francisco — or the post-ape-ocalyptic remainder of it, at least — is once more the setting, brilliantly realized by production designer James Chinlund as a gangrenous wasteland of vegetation-swamped slumhouses, the city’s erstwhile landmarks glumly clothed in rust and moss.”

But on the right, we have:

1. A “woman problem.”

Kyle Buchanan writes in Slate:

“This ‘Dawn is virtually devoid of female characters.

“The movie takes place in the future after a simian superflu has wiped out most of mankind, and of the hundreds of human survivors we see left in San Francisco—plenty of whom have speaking roles — only one is a woman: Ellie, played by Keri Russell. She’s the one who tags along a few steps behind our male lead in all her scenes, and she’s off-screen for most of the movie, including the all-important final act. Ellie’s counterparts at the colony of apes don’t fare much better when it comes to representation: There, too, we meet countless male apes but only one female, Caesar’s love interest, Cornelia. This motion-capture character is played by the talented actress Judy Greer, who has a dancer’s background, studied simian movement for months, and yet has about 90 seconds of screentime in the final film. No one even calls Cornelia by name in the movie—if you wanted to know, you’d have to look it up later.”

2. White-privilege issues.

Jette Kernion laments at the Slackerwood site:

“The human colony in ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is located in San Francisco. A third of the population currently in/around that city is Asian. Guess how many Asian characters are seen in the film? Unless I missed a few in the crowd, exactly zero. It’s a majority-white community from what I can tell, which in a movie that is supposed to be questioning the morality of nationalism/racism is inexcusable.”

3. Defamation of bonobos.

It’s no secret that the bonobo is the favorite primate of the left. That’s because bonobos are non-aggressive, have sex all the time with just about anybody, and have a reputedly matriarchal society. Why can’t we humans be more like bonobos?

But as Susan Block, writing in Counterpunch, notes, the makers of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” seemed to have gone out of their way to:

“[D]efame the good name ‘bonobo’ by calling the most violent, vicious, murderous, warmongering—not to mention the ugliest and scariest-looking—ape in the film a ‘bonobo.’ ” “Excuse me? This is like calling the Dalai Lama a Nazi or a dolphin a shark. …

“But that’s just what ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ does with the character of ‘Koba,’ the brutal ‘bonobo’ (a CGI based on the motion-capture performance by Toby Kebell) who kills without remorse and bullies the other apes into forming a fighting force that almost destroys the human race with a maniacal grin on his face.”

So, is “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” a left-wing apologia or a right-wing cinematic screed? It looks like a tossup, doesn’t it?

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.