‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Review

Director: Matt Reeves

Writers: Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria and Amiah Miller

Synopsis: After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mystic quest to avenge his kind.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Planet of the Apes was a movie that changed the movie scene due to its amazing practical effects, visual storytelling – apes of horses! – and vision of the future. Sure the series went to some crazy places and out there ideas. No serious watch them or look it up, but the series always had a special place in people’s hearts, and after a lackluster attempt with Tim Burton’s version – although credit where credit is due with those practical effects – the series got a much needed shot-in-the-arm with the reboot back in 2011 in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Lead by motion-capture pioneer Andy Serkis with WETA Digital helping with the groundbreaking special effects, Rise became an instant hit with fans and nonfans alike. Serkis’ Caesar was a compelling character that made us feel and root for him to win, which meant yes, humans are the bad guys and had to be stopped. We then got Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which added an extra layer, it wasn’t humans vs. apes, it was humans vs. apes vs. apes, thanks to Toby Kebbell’s Koba, who hated what humans did to apes, and Caesar, who saw the good in humans once and believes that there could be peace. Now, of course, we get War for the Planet of the Apes, a great end to a great trilogy.

War picks up a couple years after the events of Dawn, and we now sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) with the remaining apes living in hiding in the woods from a group of soldiers lead by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). After two attacks on their home, Caesar has had enough and decides to get revenge. Breaking away from the apes, and sending them to a new promised home, Caesar is followed by his trusted and closest friends in Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). Eventually they come across a young girl, played by Amiah Miller, who has lost the ability to speak, and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), an ape that has learned to talk just be being around humans. What follows is Caesar struggling with his darker side to get revenge, but also still trying to remain the leader to his people

Despite the summer releases of all the films, and the massive – and impressive –special effects, this Apes franchise never really feels like a summer movie. They could have easily turned this into a full-fledged apes vs. humans series, but instead they made every film about making Caesar a fully fleshed out and complex character. The film could be looked at as character study on both sides. Are the apes the heroes, or are the humans. Yes, there are good humans like James Franco’s Will or Jason Clarke’s Malcolm, but for every good few humans, there are extremely bad humans like Harrelson’s The Colonel, who take the extreme.

Caesar fights for his people and to keep them safe, but so do the humans, and in this case Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel has a reasonable case for his actions. Although anyone in that kind of position will probably say their position is right, but in this case, he’s somewhat right. That said, that is another reason why I love this rebooted trilogy. It gives you both sides of the argument and lets you choose, but Caesar is such a great character and seeing his journey for three films now, you have to root for him.

Of course, some of that goes to Andy Serkis. Serkis’ subtle nuances always made Caesar feel more human, if that makes some sense. Here it’s the same, Caesar is still conflicted, but still has his purpose but is stuck figuring out if he wants to continue doing things his way or if he falls for the darkness that Koba told him he would and should do. That’s why his advisory here in Harrelson’s The Colonel is a great one. Like Caesar, The Colonel only has one purpose and will do whatever it takes to complete it.

When it comes to the rest of the cast, it’s hard to really judge all of them considering they are mostly all motion-capture. When it comes to the new characters in Bad Ape, he brings some humor to the otherwise dark toned film, and all of it works and is not forced. Then there’s Amiah Miller’s character who is a huge homage and Easter Egg to the original series that ties in where the future of the series can go, but also do their own version. Also, credit to Miller, who’s still relativity new to Hollywood, on what she was able to pull off here given that she doesn’t talk at all.

Speaking of homage and Easter Eggs, War does have a few more besides Miller’s character, but there is something that I really liked that they added that connects to the original. It was something that feels small, but when you look at past films, and potentially future films, it completely works and makes sense – although part of me kind of wishes they don’t make any more after this.

All in all, War for the Planet of the Apes has it all; action, drama, humor, beautiful cinematography by Michael Seresin and score by Michael Giacchino. More importantly, War is a fitting end to a near perfect trilogy that gave us a great character in Caesar played by Andy Serkis. While part of me would somewhat like to see where this franchise goes from here, the other part of me hopes they leave it at that.

War for the Planet of the Apes

4.5 out of 5

New Podcast Episode: Oscar Picks, Nightwing Film Being Developed, Matt Reeves Directing The Batman & More

It’s been a while since I’ve posted the podcast up here, but here’s a new episode of the podcast with a guest.

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review

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Dir: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Nick Thurston, Judy Greer, and Gary Oldman

Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise has gone through a lot from; ahead of its time, shocking, good, bad, weird and terrible. It has touched on political issues and questions that no one dared touched, but has also shown us how far people will go to do what they think is right. The original series came out before I was born (but I have watched and appreciated them) and then saw the horrible Tim Burton Planet of the Apes. Luckily, the series rebooted and gave us the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes giving us not just a brand new series but giving us fresh new opportunities. Does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes continue that? Quick answer, yes. And gives us a hell of a lot more.

 

The movie starts off giving us a quick and eerie rundown of how mankind has been ravaged by the “Simian Flu” followed by a war that left only small modest groups of human colonies.  Ten years later, Caesar (Serkis) and his apes have grown and thrived in the woods.  They’ve become smarter, self-sufficient, built a home, and have a tight-knit community built on laws such as “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape” and “Apes Together Strong.”  Caesar leads his community with wisdom and has also become a family ape with his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer), newborn child, and son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston).

 

However, Caesar’s life is disrupted when Malcolm (Clarke), his wife Ellie (Russell), his son Alexandra (Smit-McPhee) and others accidentally stumble into the apes’ territory while trying to repair a dam that will supply power to their colony.  Caesar must then decide if he can protect his apes through isolationism, a tenuous truce, or agreeing with his chief lieutenant Koba (Kebbell), who wants to start a war against the humans.

 

One of the great things about the movie is director Matt Reeves does not make us wait to see Caesar and the apes. After eerie opening, we see the apes right off the part. Matter of fact, the movie spends time more with the apes than the humans. Caesar’s people communicate through a mix of limited speech, signing, and body language. The ape children attend school, where Maurice, the orangutan from Rise and Caesar’s trusted adviser, teaches lessons like how to write and one that I stated earlier “Ape Shall Not Kill Ape.”

 

Although the movie has many standouts (which I will get to them later) the main standout is Andy Serkis as Caesar. This time around Caesar is older and wiser. He bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. With every body movement you can feel the responsibilities that he is wrestling with, regarding not just leading his fellow apes but also taking care of his family and guiding his elder son into adulthood. Serkis is one of the masters, if not the master, of motion capture and his turn as Caesar this time around with the help of WETA is truly one of his best works.

 

The dynamic between Caesar and Clarke’s Malcolm is a strong arc in the movie. The two have much in common, as Malcolm is also trying to protect his family and his people. It’s an uneasy truce that’s made between the two, but it comes from a shared understanding that they’re both working for the same thing — for family, for community, and for the future.

 

Of course some of the apes don’t agree with helping the humans and those are lead by Koba. While played by stunt performer Christopher Gordon in the first film, Reeves recast the role with actor Toby Kebbell. The probable reason is that Koba is a key player in the events of Dawn, and Kebbell gives Serkis a run for his money in the performance-capture acting and is much more than one-dimensional. Koba has pledged himself to Caesar ever since he freed him from the experimental laboratories of the first film, where the ape was operated on hundreds of times by human scientists. His hate for man is strong, and you can’t really blame him. He shows Caesar the scars from the human mistreatment.

 

The relationship between Caesar and Koba is just one of the many remarkable, textured character back and forwards of the film. Koba is given to outbursts as he questions Caesar’s approach to the humans, but when Caesar rebukes his old ally, Koba begs for forgiveness with an extended hand and a posture of supplication. Caesar embraces his friend’s hand with sympathy, accepting his apology as he understands the complexity of the situation and Koba’s misgivings. It’s a strong moment, but it becomes so much more as it’s repeated a couple of more times throughout the film, with each slight variation on the same interaction informing us greatly about how the relationship between the two is changing.

 

While the ape actors are great, including a string of lesser known performers including Konoval and Nick Thurston (who plays Caesar’s son Blue Eyes), we can’t overlook what WETA has done here. This movie is full of apes, and they’re very often in exterior locations or engaged in battles or riding freaking horses! All technically complex and next-level stuff. Oh, and the apes on horses? There are certain unforgettable shots on this front that make that very concept as cool and thrilling as it must’ve seemed when the original franchise came out. Reeves also utilizes the WETA magic to create some truly beautiful images. Much of this stuff gets into spoiler territory, but it truly is beautiful to see.

 

As for the human cast, it is hit and miss. Jason Clarke is great as always as he sees Caesar trying to basically do the same thing but under different circumstances. Clarke’s Malcolm sees the apes as more than just “animals” as Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus does. Keri Russell has her moments here and there but overall doesn’t do much and the same can more said for Smit-McPhee. Gary Oldman however is unfortunately underused in this. While he does have some strong moments he disappears for a chuck of the film and even when he returns he isn’t nearly as strong as he could have been.

 

Matt Reeves, who takes over for Rupert Wyatt, really expands the world that Wyatt had only developed. Rise was also filled with more obvious homage’s to the original series, Reeves holds back and makes the occasional and subtle references like using bits of the original score and an ending that is very Planet of the Apes. Although, there are some similarities of other huge moments of the original series that might be lost on the causal Planet of the Apes fans but to the hardcore fans – or ones that binged watched the series before watching Dawn – those will stick out.

 

Ultimately, the great Planet of the Apes movies all share one very important element: a willingness to examine and contemplate the issues facing the real world. And Dawn certainly falls into this category. While the always-relevant notions of family, friendship, and the responsibility to protect both run deep in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there is much more here as well for those who are willing to look. I won’t say what they are here just in case you want to see them unfold in the film yourself but all of these concepts are left to ponder.

 

All in all, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does what the best of Hollywood genre movies can do — it’s exciting, thrilling, and visually amazing to look at. But it’s so much more than that as well. Reeves is a great addition and arguably has made a better movie than Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But this movie belongs to Serkis and Kebbell who give amazing performances, and all through motion capture.

 

Hail Caesar!

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

5 out of 5