Caesar (Andy Serkis) is the leader of the ape nation in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," directed by Matt Reeves. (Credit: 20th Century Fox Film)

'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' delves into humanity's struggles

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If there is one lesson to be learned from "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," opening July 11, it is this: You do not want to mess around in the simians' living room.

In the sequel to the 2011 hit "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which stars Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell, Caesar, the leader of a primate revolutionary army (played by Andy Serkis), has settled in with his charges in a forest near San Francisco, where they have created their own civilization. But some humans escaping from a viral apocalypse blunder into the apes' domain -- and that sets off a major conflict between the species.

"I wanted to see a movie that started in the ape world and see what they have created," says director Matt Reeves. "And I hope you had invested so much in Caesar, you see him as a husband and father, so the appearance of humans would create tremendous stakes for him emotionally. I felt that would create a context in which Caesar had to be a leader, and he would do anything to protect the world the apes had created. In that sense, it is 'don't mess with his world.'"

Man against nature

"Movies -- and other literary forms, for that matter -- have always used man's attempts to control and manipulate nature as a story generator," adds film critic Marshall Fine of hollywoodandfine.com. "It may be because, in real life, we're constantly seeing the effects of our tampering with the natural order. But movies find ways to make that conflict into something dramatic -- so that we don't just lose a species but, instead, find our own species' survival threatened."

What goes around comes around. In "Planet of the Apes," the 1968 classic that jump-started the franchise -- now up to eight films -- astronaut Charlton Heston's appearance in the ape culture is particularly disruptive when a group of chimp scientists realize that humans are actually intelligent, and instead of apes evolving from men, it's exactly the opposite. These metaphors about evolution and the clash of civilizations are just some of the reasons why the series has remained so popular.