‘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

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Review

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Dir: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Gleen Close and Benicio Del Toro

Synopsis: In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan

 

 

*Reviewer Note: This will have minor spoilers but nothing that will spoil the movie itself.*

 

 

When Marvel announced they would be doing a movie based on relatively unknown characters in Guardians of the Galaxy, pretty much everyone voiced an opinion on the matter. Was it going to be good? Bad? Would it be too weird? However, what everyone agreed on was this would be one of the Marvel’s biggest risks. So was the start of Phase 2 and the so called “Cosmic Era” the hit Marvel expected it to be? Yes, yes it was.

 

The movie starts off with a strong emotional scene set in the 80s of a young Peter Quill in the hospital. After a strong goodbye to a family member he runs out and gets scooped by a ship. Fast forward 20-something years later and Peter Quill (Pratt) is all grown up and now goes by the moniker “Star-Lord” although it’s almost only to himself and goes around the galaxy gather things to sell.

 

The movie than opens with Quill retrieving a silver orb that everyone wants. The orb puts him in the crosshairs of the assassin Gamora (Saldana), who is working for a Kree religious fanatic Ronan (Pace).  Ronan wants to wipe out the Xandarians, which is the home planet of the Nova’s – an intergalactic police force – for commissioning a peace treaty with the Kree, and will get help from Gamora’s father Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) in exchange for the orb.

 

While all that is going on, Quill gets a bounty placed on his head and that is where we get introduced to the duo of Rocket (voiced by Cooper), an angry, talking raccoon, and Groot (voiced by Diesel), a walking tree who can only say, “I am Groot.”  The four eventually end up on Xandar and end up getting thrown in jail. It’s in the jail where we meet Drax, who wants to avenge his family’s death by killing Ronan and Thanos. They eventually decide to put some of their differences aside, and even with their own agendas, to escape the prison and find out why Thanos and Ronan want to the orb.

 

The movie is a bit plot-heavy, which isn’t a bad thing, but it really doesn’t feel that way. It’s a bit slow at the beginning – what movie isn’t – but it picks up as it progress. But even with everything going on, like the universe being threaten or the beautiful landscapes and designs, it’s all about the characters. Each character has their own moments, whether it’s individually or together, and probably one of the best scenes of the movie is when they finally decide to be an actual team. Kudos has to be given to director James Gunn for making this team up work in a little over two hours as oppose to The Avengers where we had the foundation of that team up being laid out by several movies over years.

 

What? A picture in my review?

What? A picture in my review?

 

But next to Gunn’s direction, the movie is bought together by it’s impressive cast, which is lead by Chris Pratt, who is almost perfectly cast as Star-Lord. He’s cocky, heroic and can also deliver a hero’s speech as he is also coming up with one-liners. Being a child of the 80s, his references are usually themed to that era but they don’t seemed dated or cheesy and they actually work.

 

Zoe Saldana is already use to playing strong kick ass female characters and Gamora no different. She’s determined, deadly and at times feels like she’s the compass of the group, which is weird considering she is one of the daughters of “The Mad Titan” Thanos. Equally as deadly is Drax, played by Dave Bautista. Although it would seem like he’s the muscle of the group, although he does have some great action moments, Drax will definitely be a favorite for some. He has some of the funniest lines and moments in the movie and does so with great timing and deadpan wit.

 

But of course we have to talk about Rocket and Groot. Both characters were done by motion-capture and CGI, but while it seems so simple to put in a walking, talking, machine gun touting, genetically modified raccoon and a walking tree that only says three words, the character provide the team with some, even more, comic relief and warmth. Bradley Cooper brings a great sarcastic tone to Rocket and without spoiling anything also brings some great emotional scenes. Diesel, who already has a limited talking character under his belt with The Iron Giant, does it yet again. Who knew that “I am Groot” can be said so many different ways and when said can mean something entirely different.

 

The villains are also pretty great here, Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace has a great menacing look to him and is almost unstoppable, although some might see him as one-dimensional, which I can see but Pace does a great job every time he’s on screen. Karen Gillan’s Nebula, the other daughter of Thanos and least favorite, is also pretty cool although it would have been nice to see a little more of her. Even Korath (Hounsou) who has a great look to him isn’t really anything more than glorified henchmen. Of course, the ever so reliable Michael Rooker as Yondu has a standout moment.

 

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Finally, John C. Reilly and Glenn Close make the most of their supporting roles, as part of the Nova Cop. However, comic book fans already know, and as I stated earlier, Josh Brolin voices Thanos. Thanos does show up and I wouldn’t be a fan if I didn’t mention him. He only has one real scene and then shows up on screens and is talked about a lot. One shot in particular should be recognizable to comic book fans when we see Thanos as a whole character, it might be fan service but its welcomed fan service.

 

While the movie is a “Marvel” movie, it also feels like a James Gunn movie. It’s sarcastic, humorous, some dark humor (especially one that involves bodily fluids) and pushes its PG-13 rating but never really feels that way. More importantly, this is Gunn’s first big budgeted film and you can tell by the set-pieces and how much everything feels someone was let loose to create something from the ground up. The other nice thing is although this will eventually fall into the Marvel Cinematic Universe – there are elements from the already set MCU – Guardians feels like it could be set in it’s own universe, which seems odd to say since it’s set in the Galaxy.

 

All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy is fun, funny, has sly dialogue and is action-packed. The design and set-pieces are great to look at (even in 3D) and the music choices are great and fit very well into the movie as a whole. Marvel’s big risk, for me, wasn’t a big risk at all. Yes, it takes risks but it is those risks that make the movie what it is and what makes it so fun. The movie’s connective pieces to the MCU are great to see and to see Thanos have some screen time is really awesome to see (also the mention of the Kree!). Is it the best Marvel movie yet? I’d say it is up there.

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy

5 out of 5