While critics and audiences alike seem to enjoy the recent Apes films featuring mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis (Rise, Dawn and War for the Planet of the Apes respectively), I find myself in that small, less enthused minority. While certainly a cut above Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, the most recent Apes films fail to recapture many of the themes and motifs that made the originals (namely the first third and fourth) so luridly unique. Gone is the time travel, the debates regarding reason vs. religion, the threat of global nuclear war, the nuanced take on race relations and the funhouse mirror reflection of our own society. In its place, a phoned-in message on diversity and ham-fisted Christ metaphors, all coasting on some damn fine special effects and Serkis’ emotional resonance. Perfectly acceptable popcorn fare for sure, but not quite fulfilling to fans of the original Planet of the Apes. To where do we OG Ape fans turn?
Enter BOOM! Studios’ Planet of the Apes: Visionaries.
Translated to the comic book page by comedian and show writer Dana Gould (The Simpsons, Stan Against Evil), Visionaries is based largely on the original screenplay of Twilight Zone alum Rod Serling. Think IDW’s adaptation of City on the Edge of Forever based on the original Star Trek teleplay by Harlan Ellison. Much akin to the original 1963 science fiction novel by Pierre Boulle from which the films were loosely based, Serling’s script featured our human protagonist (here named Thomas as opposed to Taylor) confronted by a technologically modern society replete with automobiles, helicopters and skyscrapers as opposed to the primitive, Flintstones-esque society of the first two films (worth noting, this is also the direction a sequel to the much maligned Burton remake would have gone had said sequel ever been made).
Interestingly enough, this story of an out of touch and out of time astronaut adjusting to an advanced society not his own bears more than a passing resemblance to not just the original Planet of the Apes, but Escape from the Planet of the Apes (the third film in the franchise and incidentally my second favorite). As with Escape, our lead becomes something of a pseudo celebrity upon discovery. As with Escape, there’s a suit fitting scene. Even the endings have a cynical synchronicity.
The overall format of the plot remains largely the same. Our three main leads, our human hero, Dr. Zira and Dr. Zaius remain much the same as their cinematic counterparts. Even Cornelius and Nova enter the fray. That having been said, there are several key differences. The species-specific caste system depicted in the films (the breakdown of gorillas in menial labor/military positions, chimps as the scientific intelligentsia and orangutans as political/theocratic leaders) is not as strictly adhered to here. There are for instance chimp members of hunting parties and gorilla doctors represented throughout. The lack of specific religious satire admittedly leaves me wanting and I can’t decide whether it’s a byproduct of the modern, non-stone age setting or a concession pushed by the publisher as to not appear too controversial. And even the most forgiving of readers must admit that line changes such as “No! Leave. Me. Alone.” are poor substitutes for “take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”
All considered, Planet of the Apes: Visionaries remains a fantastic vision of a future gone mad (gone ape?). Rod Serling’s social commentary and cynical brilliance shines through in this perilous redux of the classic original. The artwork courtesy of Chad Lewis (Kong of Skull Island, Skin Walkers Ranch) is top notch, replete with a wondrous 50s/60s aesthetic. Dana Gould manages to effortlessly make contemporary this 1960s cinematic effort, careful not to remove all its requisite kitsch whilst still maintaining its dramatic weight. A must have for OG Ape fans everywhere.