Darke Reviews | War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

In preparation for this movie I did a double feature in my own home last night watching both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – worth noting it was almost 3 years to the day on release from the last film.  I remembered they were good, with computer animation that defies so many other films we see, most of it focused on amazing motion capture work with Andy Serkis. The first movie is classic science fiction with a morality tale built in as it should be, but in my opinion doesn’t warn us away from the science. Granted it does require the stupidity and bad lab procedures to survive itself, but its a conceit I allow for the sake of the whole. The second movie is more of what we have become used to in our science fiction with a dystopian world with nature taking control and humanity on the brink. The question asked is can we peacefully co-exist? The answer is not when prejudice and hatred continue to reside within either side; which leads us to War.

Should you avoid this War though?

Matt Reeves returns to the directors chair after successfully helming the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves, in my opinion is proving Cloverfield wasn’t a fluke of directing and that Let Me In was as well done as it was for a remake due to finite control of his camera and his actors. He with director of photography Michael Seresin (Dawn, Prisoner of Azkaban) go for some interesting camera shots. While most of them are not as evocative as those in Rise or Dawn, they are still appropriate. There are a few Dutch angles in the film for those who look for them and I believe you will find them appropriately used.  Intelligent use of wide shots as well as the close up.  He brings out the right performances from his actors and in scenes where I thought I might get annoyed I was surprised that I wasn’t. He, along with the story he co-wrote, know how to ease down the tension without letting it go away; allowing for laughter in the right times and right beats so as to not take away the dramatic moments that happened only minutes before. He ramps and lets go very well throughout the film with only one or two stumbles

The supporting story allows for it with Reeves and Mark Bomback on the pen. Bomback having screenplay credits on the last film, The Wolverine (Wolverine in Japan, aka the other good one); but also the less than stellar Insurgent and Live Free or Die Hard. The story is what it advertises itself to be – a war movie; but more akin to ones like The Longest Day (1962) or Battle of the Bulge (1965).  What does that mean? Well war is the backdrop to personal stories. Sure there is action but the action is in service to the plot rather than the plot and the story being in service to the action. They let beats linger long, they use the lack of actual dialogue to their benefit, and the dialogue they choose to use is used well; while the sign language of the apes continues to be very effective in this medium. They are able to introduce new characters both heroes and villains, human and ape – who manage to have their own arcs and finality to them as well. There are a few moments that while set up if you were looking close that may have some folks rolling their eyes, but it is not a major sin.

I said it before and will say it again, please just acknowledge Andy Serkis is deserving of an Oscar and punch anyone in their lying mouth if they say you can’t act or emote through Motion Capture. His Ceasar is a tired leader in this one and the weight of everything on his shoulders and it plays perfectly through the film. Karin Konoval’s Maurice, the orangutan, continues to plug the heartstrings of ape and audience while being the films conscience. Steve Zahn surprised me with how charming his performance was; which made a brilliant counterpoint to Woody Harrelson as The Colonel. He is just the right kind of monster that you can almost get for a few moments then come to your senses (I hope). Twelve year old Amiah Miller does not annoy and in fact endears through the movie as the little girl. All in all every performance was good and adds to the effort of script and camera.

Technically – yes the Apes and motion capture are even better than Disney did with Rogue One. They are improved over the last 6 years and almost…almost flawless especially in their weight on screen against living actors. Granted some of that comes from the mo-cap work, but the CG artists have to deliver on it. I want to say it’s perfect on this front, but I can’t. There’s a few shots that don’t work with the Apes, but they are rare. What is sad that some of the environmental, technological, and background effects are missing that same level of quality. While not “bad” they just aren’t quite good and temporarily ejected me from a scene, but most audiences will give it a pass. I think there are a handful of editing mistakes in the film, most of which are forgivable. At 140 minutes the movie does run a bit long and probably could have had 10-15 minutes shaved here and there with negligible impact, but improved the pacing.

TL;DR?

During my last review for this series I invoked Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II and I stand by it. War for the Planet of the Apes concludes the trilogy of films perfectly. This is arguably one of the best cinematic trilogies of all time up there with the original Star Wars arc, Godfather, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are other trilogies sure, but they have a weak film in their series, where this franchise really doesn’t; only getting stronger as time goes on.

My only fear is Hollywood will foolishly try to make another and I hope Matt Reeves and others say no. You have as good as you are going to get and it would be wise to let the series end on the high note.

Should you see it?

Yes. War for the Planet of the Apes is an very good movie worth watching. I can’t say reasonably that 3-D would make it better, but XD probably would.

Will you buy it?

Without question.

 

Is it good Sci Fi?

Yes. yes it is. It gives you option for conversation. It gives you something to think about. It also gives both text and subtextual plots that are worth discussing. The movie defies tropes that other lesser films would have gone for. It takes risks and is intelligent about them.

Are you serious on the trilogy thing?

Absolutely. Look there’s a lot of trilogies out there and some good, some bad. It’s hard to find one that keeps getting better as it goes or ends as well.

This is a well made, well shot, well executed film deserving of praise and funding via ticket sales. I absolutely encourage people to watch this.

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Darke Reviews | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

First let me apologize for not getting that Earth to Echo review out. I will make an attempt this evening, but first I want to talk to you about a sequel. Sequels notoriously have a curse for being less awesome than their predecessor. There are a handful in all of time that break that. Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II being two of the most prominent. August 5, 2011 saw the reboot of a franchise that was abused to the point it still causes flashbacks. Burtons version is at best an abomination and at worst a cinematic enema on the audience and good movie making.

But…enough of that 2011 we got Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was a fantastic film very few people saw. It only opened to $54 million and went down hill from there. This was a crime. It had all the makings of a fantastic work. Good acting. Good editing. Good graphics. Good story. While not a flawless film, it is an amazing one that sadly only made $176 million domestically. It was enough though, enough for a sequel three years later. A sequel released this week.

Does it measure up?

So the movie picks up about a decade after the first ends, and this is me tap dancing to avoid spoilers. The Apes have their culture and humanity has its own. They live in ignorance of each other and sadly that ignorance is about to be shattered.

Lets talk acting first. Just give Andy Serkis an Oscar. Now. Don’t wait til January and don’t snub him again. If anyone and I mean anyone says you cannot act sufficiently through Mo-Cap or make up do me a favor and smack them in the face with a good open hand slap. Serkis is a genius. Nothing in his performance as Ceasar is lost or wasted. Every body language pose, posture, and shift is there for us. His  face is a map to raw emotion. What words there that exist are used so sparingly forcing the man to do so much more through sign and expression. You always know what he is feeling, what he is thinking with barely a syllable uttered. This is acting. This is what others need to aspire to when they do motion capture. Peter Jackson has just had someone set the bar higher.

Nearly everyone else is passable against the magnificence that is Ceasar. Jason Clarke, a man usually relegated to secondary or tertiary roles in film and TV brings an A game many doubted he had. This isn’t the man from White House Down, Zero Dark Thirty or the Great Gatsby. This is a potential headliner still in need of some refinement but one who holds his own remarkably well. Its a hard task to carry the weight of the human centerpiece on your shoulders in this movie and he seems up to it. He even proves a great counterpoint to Gary flippin Oldman.

Sadly he is the only human who has a really well defined personality or chance to show it. Everyone else is a stereotype of some kind or somehow useless. I didn’t even know Keri Russells character name. Oldman too is a stereotype, but one you can empathize with. He takes a note from his own playbook and brings it back to the subtle for the most part. Ok subtle for Oldman. This is a very Gordon like performance for him. When the cracks show in the veneer of control is when you see what he is and it works.

The Apes on the other hand are the stars. Everything Transformers gets wrong in this space, THIS movie gets right. None of the actors are particularly well known and are never actually seen. Each performance as an Ape is nuanced. Everything that Serkis delivers is brought to the game by the other actors. He set a bar and they reached for it and were largely successful in doing so. Its magic.

It’s the uncanny valley.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is -generally – the point in which human likeness in something unreal becomes so close to real we grow uncomfortable. This movie tips the balance. The graphics work is so near perfect in every detail its hard to believe we are not looking at actors in make up at times. Reality and computers have come closer than ever and are nearly…nearly flawless in execution within this film. Nothing to date comes close to how real the Apes appear.

Add to that particularly inspired design choices. Brilliant even. The use of sign language over voice speech by the apes was the act of an ingenious mind. Animal behaviorists will have a field day on the accuracy of the movements and actions of the ape society. Research was done. Effort was put into place. It paid off. These are details many would not realize are there, but I’ve lived with a vet tech for a decade and a half now. We’ve discussed these things, studied them for games, and have a basic above average understanding. Trust me when I say it is well done in this space.

TL;DR?

Ok so. I referenced the Godfather II and Empire Strikes back earlier. Yes this movie is in the same calibre as them. It IS that good. The only true suffering is in the pacing. The bridge between act II and III is just too long and drawn out. Aside from that it is an excellent film we SHOULD be going to see.

Just like Snowpiercer the week before, these are the movies we need to be giving our money to. These are the movies we need made.

Yes, you should see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

But Jess should we see it in 3D? – ok no. 3D adds nothing but ticket price.

Go see it in 2D and enjoy it for all its worth. Tell hollywood with your wallet where we need to have movies made. Good stories, acting, plots, and effects are rolled into one.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while an homage to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, shines in its specialness and could – if we are lucky – be the dawn of a new era of movies.