Friday, July 14, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

It's been nearly 50 years since cinema has been churning out Planet of the Apes movies and even a bit longer since the idea was first put to paper. Pierre Boulle originally wrote the French novel in 1963, which was adapted into the classic 1968 film starring Charlton Heston. Following that we had several direct sequels of varying popularity, a couple TV shows that some people probably enjoyed and a 2001 Tim Burton remake that I've not heard one positive remark about. Personally I'm not what you would call a Planet of the Apes purist. I find the original movie fascinating, but I've never checked out the 70's sequels, TV shows or the Burton remake because I've been given no indication that it's worth checking out. So I never have. Thus I was unsure about what to think when I went into "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" in 2011. It didn't seem like it was a good idea to try yet again. But like with the rest of the world, I was blown away. Now six years later this prequel trilogy is complete with "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" in 2014 and "War for the Planet of the Apes" in theaters now. Suddenly we have on our hands one of the best trilogies ever made as "Dawn" improved upon "Rise" and now "War" has impressively improved upon "Dawn."

Right off the bat, one of the things that I found interesting about "Rise" was that, through a certain chain of events, we started to have an ape uprising where we set up this ape vs. human conflict and I had no idea which side I was supposed to take. I myself am a human, so naturally it makes sense for me to want the human race to prevail. However, Caesar, Koba, Rocket, Maurice and the gang of apes are such fascinating characters that I also want to cheer for them. That somewhat unconventional route of no clear protagonists vs. antagonists story really threw me off at first, but it didn't take me too long to absolutely fascinated by it. Very rarely do we have war films where you completely understand the position of both sides of the battle and aren't sure where you are supposed to stand. Then this idea was exemplified in "Dawn" when Caesar learns the hard way through Koba that not all apes are good. But even then with Koba as a more clear villain, you fully understand why he made certain decisions given how oppressed and mistreated he was by the humans, whereas Caesar sees the good in humans because he was raised by James Franco's character, who was genuinely a great human being, something that Jason Clarke reminded him of in "Dawn."

I don't remember when it hit me, but sometime after seeing "Dawn," I made the connection that this is more than just a fun sci-fi apes vs. humans franchise. It's a franchise that is reflective of the human condition. In "Dawn" specifically, we have a battle of humans vs. apes where both sides honestly feel that they are in the right and that the other side is in the wrong. This sparks an inciting incident that leads to a major battle. In the meantime, some of the humans and some of the apes realize that there is good and bad on both sides and that they should make peace. But it's too little, too late. How often in society do we see this same battle play out when it comes to color of skin, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, political opinion or anything else like that? We are constantly labeling ourselves and bitterly fighting against the opposing side without stopping for a moment to truly consider what we are really doing. Many fights could be solved if we would just put ourselves in the shoes of the opposite side and try to really learn where they are coming from and why they are doing the things they do. Yet for some reason this seems to be impossible for some people, so we continue to fight. Racism, prejudice and the like prevail while we all lose.

Yes, I loved both "Rise" and "Dawn" when I first saw them, but they are the type of movies that have only improved over time as I continue to see them and consider the messages the movies teach us, given that they are essentially an allegorical tale on the human condition and what can happen if we continue on the path that we are currently on. What I really loved about "War" was that it took these themes and expanded on them, giving us a perhaps the deepest and most emotional chapter yet that is the perfect conclusion to this beautiful and tragic saga. If you were a fan of "Rise" and "Dawn," like I definitely was, you absolutely need to make "War" a priority. And bring a box of tissues along with you. I don't know if this is the absolute final Planet of the Apes movie that will ever be made. In theory there are a lot of potential stories in this universe that they could still tell. But there is no question that "War" is at least the conclusion of this specific story arc that we've been telling these last two movies. I would be nice if Hollywood had the self-control to let this franchise be, but if they go the route of "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings" or "Bourne" by finding a way to continue, at the very least I am happy that we have this trilogy to treasure for years to come.

I was just now reading what I wrote in my review of "Dawn" in 2014 and one thing that I noticed is that I didn't touch the plot of the film very much because the trailers did a good job of keeping that movie's real story a secret. I really appreciate it when a movie does that and now I'm super happy that they've done so twice in a row. You may think what you know what is going to happen after you watch the trailers. It's Caesar vs. Woody Harrelson in the final war of apes vs. humans, right? Well yes. But that's only the very bare bones of this movie. The skeleton, if you will. But there is so much more to this movie that the trailers chose not to tell us about and I love that. Thus I'm going to follow my 2014 example and not talk much about this plot. I want you to experience this movie like I did. So I'm going to do my best to stick with the generalities of the movie as opposed to the specifics. And the first thing on this note is that, despite it being called "WAR for the Planet of the Apes," this is not really a war film. I do think it's a fitting title because there is a war going on around them, but this is more of a character-driven drama where the action is more of a supplemental side note rather than it being the other way around and I really appreciated that.

If you go into this movie hoping for Helm's Deep the movie, but in this world, then there is a slight chance that you will be disappointed. The trailers were very action heavy, but the movie certainly is not. However, just be aware that if you are disappointed because you wanted more action and less character stuff, I will be disappointed in you. There's a time and a place for brainless summer action flicks, but this Planet of the Apes saga is not one of them. The heart and soul of these movies have been the story of Caesar and what he's gone through. We saw him in "Rise" as he built his own little kingdom of smart apes. We saw him have to witness the rise of a war against the humans thanks to the actions of Koba. Now we get to see him fight his absolute hardest to keep his civilization alive in a point where the humans are at their most desperate state. Caesar has to go through some horrific tragedies which lead him to have to make difficult decisions. And the decisions are not necessarily the best decisions, which often comes back to haunt and torment him. There is a ton of raw emotion that Andy Serkis is able to bring to this character that often makes you want to sit and cry as you are watching it all unfold in your theater chair.

Speaking of Andy Serkis, might I remind you that this is a motion-capture performance. It's much more than just Serkis providing a voice to a computer-generated character. He's on set in a fancy suit moving around like Caesar is. It's one thing to provide a lot of emotion to a human character or do great voice work, but it's a whole different ball game with Serkis becoming an ape AND providing all of that depth and emotion. I've been impressed with every motion-capture performance that Serkis has done, but this is by far the best work he has done and is his most emotional and powerful role. So please. Give this man an Oscar. Or at least a nomination. I don't know why the Academy has been so stubbornly opposed to motion-capture, but it would be really nice if they got off their high horse and give credit where credit is due. But they probably won't. And I'll be mad. But life will go on and I will get over it as I realize again that the Academy Award really don't mean that much. It's the same story, just different years. But I suppose it's only fair to wait and see what else 2017 has to offer us because it's only July and all of the major Oscar bait movies don't even come out until late Fall. But still. It would be satisfying to see the man get recognized somehow.

Serkis isn't the only part of this movie deserving of awards, though. If this were up to me, I'd go all out in true "Return of the King" fashion, at least in terms of nominations. And since it's the concluding chapter, it would be the right time to do it. Let's give it a best picture, best screenplay, best lead actor for Serkis, best supporting actor for Woody Harrelson, best cinematography, best visual effects, best original score and even more of those technical categories because this movie is brilliant. If I were to pick only one outside Serkis, those visual effects would be a great choice as once again, those apes look like real apes. If you were impressed by the visual effects in "Rise" and "Dawn," it only gets better here. And yes, I kind of just name dropped Woody Harrelson in there for supporting actor because I absolutely loved him in the movie and I wish I could dive even more, but I'm going to let you experience that. Just know that every time Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson are on screen together, it's cinematic magic. So much more to talk about with this movie, but I think I've made my point and now I'm going to let you discover the brilliance of this film on your own. This trilogy is one of the best and this final chapter is a masterpiece. I'm giving "War" a 10/10.

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