Monday, July 17, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes review

Studios love movie franchises. They have name recognition and they bring in the money. But exploiting a franchise is not always artistically or commercially successful. Sometimes the studio's greed will fail both.

Twentieth Century Fox has had successes in some of its franchises. Star Wars. The X-Men. Others not so much. Aliens 3-4. The original Planet of the Apes sequels, 3-5. And the anemic Fantastic Four movies. As for the Planet of the Apes movies, I believed Fox should have stopped after the second one of the original series which was Beneath The Planet of the Apes. (1970) After all, earth was destroyed. Yeah, that was artistic chutzpah. Well after the original Apes movies petered out, Fox tried again in 2001 with the silly Tim Burton reboot. Finally in 2011, Fox replaced the premise that man destroys his society with nuclear war with a weaker premise that man destroys society with a virus that also raises ape intelligence. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (2011) Since that was a success, they followed that with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (2014) Yeah, I thought these last two Apes movies were needless but that being said, I concede they were both well made.

That brings us to War for the Planet of the Apes. This movie starts with where "Rise" left off. War has started between humans and apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads an intelligent ape colony. They are getting attacked by a military human army led by Colonel Kurtz (Woody Harrlson) who wants to merciless slaughter Viet Cong and mumble his lines. Um... okay that's Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. But honestly the Colonel character is inspired by Brando. Right down to Harrelson's shaved head and the graffiti on a pipe that says Ape-calypse Now. Hollywood Reporter. Anyway, the soldiers kill one of Caesar's sons and his wife. Hey guess which son survives. No surprise. It's Cornelius, a name from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes movie. There are many references to the original Apes movies. By the way, I say no surprise because this is going to leave room for a sequel to this movie. You can easily conclude Cornelius is going to be the top ape in a future Apes movie.

Anyway, Caesar sends the colony away to find a safer home while he goes after the Colonel with his band of brothers. There was a priest, a rabbi and... Sorry, that's a lawyer joke. No, he toes off with three other apes. Caesar kills a man in self defense and find his mute daughter (Amiah Miller) whom they name Nova. Again, another name from the original movie. She is raised by the apes and learns how to summon the creatures of the forest and swing on vines. Okay, that last part is Tarzan. But seriously, the filmmakers took inspiration from many movies.

While they search for the Colonel, he captures the colony. He uses the apes to build a wall and then gets them to pay for it. Trump gives this movie two thumbs up. Yeah, I'm joking about making the apes pay for it. I mean with what? Bananas? However, the Colonel is really using the apes to build a wall. Geez, I thought Fox owner Rupert Murdoch was a friend of the Dear Leader. With Logan and now this movie we're getting two metaphorical films that are critical of the blonde hair, orange skin conservative president.

As I pointed out, I thought rebooting the Apes franchise with a virus was weak. The theme in the 1968 original of man's hatred leading to his self-destruction was powerful. So I admit, I'm not a fan of the recent Apes movies. The objective question is with the first two films in this recent series being of high quality would the third be just as good? The answer is "yes."

War for the Plane of the Apes
works on many levels. Director Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback have used their affinity of other movies to guide them in making a pretty good tale of revenge, hatred, kindness and love. Reeves is excellent at staging exciting action and beautiful shots evocative of westerns. The CGI of the apes is Oscar worthy. I forgot that they were generated by a computer and believed them to be real. Finally, Andy Serkis' performance here is also Oscar worthy. I've said that acting starts with the face. It's the ability to see in a face the emotion the character is feeling without dialogue. And you can certainly see that in Serkis' face even through the CGI motion capture. Anger. Hatred. Uncertainty. Conflict. Compassion. Serkis' Caesar drives the film.

There are just a few problems with this movie. First, the filmmakers want us to believe that Nova just accepts the fact that Caesar kills her father and she feels nothing. Of course, this is moot if the guy wasn't her father. But none of this is explained. Caesar doesn't apologize by saying, "I'm sorry but it was in self-defense." Nova seems to be happy with her big hairy friends. Then there is the long stretch where the ape colony is imprisoned. Yeah, you get the impression that this was inspired by The Great Escape or should I say, "The Great Ape-scape." There definitely needed some pruning here as it slowed down the narrative.

War for the Planet of the Apes is a satisfying conclusion to this Apes trilogy. And no surprise here, you will probably get more Planet of the Apes movies in the future. We seem to be going in the direction of the weak Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) rather than original 1968 film where the apes are the villains and dominate mankind. i can't dislike new Apes movies if they're made well. The grade for War for the Planet of the Apes is B.

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