‘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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‘Kong: Skull Island’ Review

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann, Tian Jing, Jason Mitchell, Eugene Cordero, Shea Whingham, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell and John C. Reilly

Synopsis: A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.

 

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

*Reviewer Note 2: There is a post-credit scene*

 

King Kong is one of the most famous movie characters of all time, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood would try to bring him to the big screen as much as possible. Some have been great and some have been disappointing, but Kong: Skull Island thankfully leans more toward the great side. So, what exactly did director Jordan Vogt-Roberts do to make Kong: Skull Island a good King Kong film? Keep reading and find out.

Set during 1973, at the tail end of U.S troops pulling out of Vietnam, struggling government organization Monarch has two employees in William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) who have a wild theory that an uncharted island could lead to major secrets. They manage to pull together a survey and mapping operation on the island with a military escort lead by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a former SAS Captain and expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and an antiwar photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Once they arrive to the island – and after dropping bombs to map out the island – they meet Kong (motion-captured by Toby Kebbell and Terry Notary), who isn’t happy they’re dropping bombs in his backyard.

After surviving the initial attack, the group gets separated with Packard leading some of his men in Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Reles (Eugene Cordero) and Randa, while Conrad, Weaver, and Brooks are with other Monarch members in San (Tian Jing), Slivko (Thomas Mann) and Victor Nieves (John Ortiz) before they run into Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been on the island for quite some time. What follows is both groups trying to make it off the island, avoiding Kong, but also finding out that Kong may not be the most dangerous thing there.

If you follow the news online, or are a fan of 2014’s Godzilla, Monarch is a connective tissue from the movie, and Skull Island was the studio’s way to introducing King Kong for the forthcoming mashup film between Godzilla and King Kong. However, Skull Island – thankfully – stands on its own making Kong a huge highlight and a force of nature. So since we’re talking about Kong, let’s go more into him. Obviously, Kong is someone you don’t want to mess with according the trailers. He’s king on the island as Reilly’s Marlow says, and that statement is proven the moment we meet as he takes over what felt like a dozen helicopters with ease, and going up against some of the Skull Crawlers. And when it comes to the Skull Crawlers, they do make an intimidating villains and great foes to Kong.

When it comes to the cast, they all play their part very, very well. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson have their characters fleshed out enough, while the highlights could very well go to John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson. Reilly’s Marlow has been stuck on the island for decades with the natives of the land, so his nuances are fun to watch unfold. Jackson’s characters fits into the time. Jackson is fueled by one thing after the first encounter with Kong: Find Kong and kill him. Jackson’s Packard is very much inspired by the time and films like Apocalypse Now. In fact the whole film feels a tinge like Apocalypse Now, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not so bluntly obvious that it takes away from the film. Two others that I want highlight personally is the pair of Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell, the two have great chemistry together and is actually my favorite pairing in the film. One unfortunate casting misstep is Toby Kebbell, who gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the cast and story.

However, besides the cast and Kong, a huge highlight is the visuals and cinematography by Larry Fong. Kong and the Skull Crawlers are impressive sure, but of course we come across other creatures on the island that are either beautiful or scary as hell. Kong: Skull Island has a nice balance of the two, but it’s not just the creatures that impress, it’s the beautiful landscapes of the island. If Skull Island wasn’t filled with things that can kill you, you’d probably want to visit – maybe.

All in all, Kong: Skull Island is an enjoyable fun adventure film with a great cast, visuals, cinematography and soundtrack. While the film does slow down at times, it doesn’t do so without trying to flesh out the characters. Of course, the highlight of the film is seeing King Kong return to the big screen in all his glory.

Kong: Skull Island

4 out of 5