Monday, July 17, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes


Here we are, just six years after the remarkable first film in these new reboots that has featured the most incredible special effects in movie history.  Yes, War for the Planet of the Apes has arrived and what a feast for the eyes and ears!  Say what you will about the Avatar films and how they’d set the path for motion capture CGI, but these films have grown and secured such a foothold within the special effects spectacles we see just about every summer. 

I’ve always been a fan—not a huge fan, but a fan—of the Planet of the Apes series of films.  The first one, released in 1968, is still an amazing film despite the laughable costumes and masks that the actors wear to depict the apes within that production.  But the story is so captivating and engrossing that you quickly forget about the cheesy makeup effects of that time.  I can accept it because I would just imagine that the apes had evolved over the centuries to stand more upright and to become taller, so it’s not too far gone of a conclusion.  Where it’s ridiculous—and I can’t remember which sequel it was—but there’s a film in the series where the apes end up back in time and are captured and believed to be normal apes.   

Back in 2011, ten years after the flop that Burton’s film had been, I really had thought the Apes films had run their course and couldn’t possibly be able to provide any more to the whole story.  But I was wrong.  It had been the right time, especially with the special effects technology, to start from the beginning and render realistic-looking chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans to show exactly how this all started.  Rise played that out brilliantly and Dawn continued the story faultlessly.

So here we are with War for the Planet of the Apes and I was chomping at the bit to go out to see this flick.  I say this with a bit of chagrin, but I think I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie more so than Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Suffice it to say, I think War may be the…

…well, let’s break down the plot summary and go at this step-by-step…

After the apes suffer unimaginable losses at the hands of a new enemy, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), Caesar (Andy Serkis) wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.

If you’ve seen the previous entry to this franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, then you know this story was coming.  At the end of the previous film, it was said through exposition that the military was on its way to fight the supposed threat of the apes.  In a way, the transition to this film is seamless and we can go right into this plot without much thought of what had happened beforehand.  It’ll help to refresh yourself with a viewing of the preceding two entries, however, just so you don’t have to think much about some of the aspects of this film.  Overall, we knew this was coming, we knew this was going to be a culmination of Caesar’s story—in one way or another—and we knew this would be an afflicting plight for both the humans and the apes.

Although most of the audiences’ presumptions of what will happen are correct, there are still a few surprises to be seen as well as a few connections to the original 1968 film.  Along the way, the audience will see great acting through the wonder of motion capture technology (and it is quite incredible this time around—more on that later), a few heartbreaking moments, and some delightfully humorous moments (mainly with the new character of “Bad Ape,” a quickly-established crowd favorite, played by Steve Zahn).

When thinking of the special effects used in this particular film, one can’t help but think back on the previous two and know that War surpassed them both.  Don’t get me wrong, Rise had some groundbreaking effects, especially with Andy Serkis’s Mo-Cap performances as Caesar, and it improved quite a bit in the sequel, but there were some scenes where the CGI was a bit spotty and obvious.  In Rise, the young Caesar wasn’t as realistic as the adult version and can take you out of the movie when seeing it today.  Dawn was better, but one scene in particular wasn’t done well and that was when the special effects team rendered the bear and elk during the hunting scene at the beginning of the film.  Here, in War for the Planet of the Apes, I didn’t notice any unrealistic execution of characters.

As for he humans in this story, Woody Harrelson played the villain as well as he could.  Though it was your typical cookie-cutter bad guy, the point was made that he had a personal vendetta against the apes and had no empathy for them whatsoever.  You learn early on that he’s the Colonel Kurtz (Apocalypse Now reference) of the story who is going rogue with his platoon.  Not only is he an enemy of the apes, but of the remaining humans as well.  Harrelson’s Colonel is heartless and unlikable in this story, making his character a perfect adversary to Caesar.

To add to the conversation of the motion capture creature-rendering technology used this time around, I really think the Academy Awards need to add a category for Mo-Cap performances, because Andy Serkis is the best out there.  Either have that new grouping or include him in the competition for best actor—his performances of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, the title character in King Kong, and Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars: The Force Awakens are some of the most incredible accomplishments one will ever see.  Along those lines, and seeing how well the effects crew was able to realistically render the apes, I’d seen an interesting tweet from PETA the other day, where they’d mention how this new Apes movie was proof positive that filmmakers won’t ever have to use live animals again.  I really wouldn’t go that far—it’s a bit cheaper to hire a dog trainer to have a dog obey some simple commands than to have a CGI-rendered dog that’ll cost quite a bit of money to showcase—but I see what they’re getting at with that statement and that’s high praise to the individuals who were able to bring Caesar and his apes to life.

My final “bit” on War for the Planet of the Apes?

A stellar completion to the Caesar arc of these new Apes films, but I still hope we see more.  Perhaps the filmmakers can spin off or just keep going with this world to see how the apes came to be in the original ’68 film.  How did they evolve to upright-walking apes?  When did they decide to wear clothing?  How did the Statue of Liberty get buried on the coastline?  Even more, will 20th Century Fox allow the original film to be remade/rebooted/reimagined?  I wouldn’t mind and I would even welcome it just so it fits in this string of films.  But War is a great conclusion to a fabulous trilogy of films documenting Caesar’s rise to power, his leadership, and his legacy.  Andy Serkis is awesome, as are all the motion capture actors in this, and the box office success speaks volumes on that fact.  If you haven’t already, go see War for the Planet of the Apes now.

Thanks for reading!

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