War For the Planet of the Apes

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“I can only imagine what you think of me.”

“I think you have no mercy.”

That’s an exchange between Caesar (Andy Serkis), leader of the apes; and The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who leads a paramilitary group known as Alpha-Omega. It borders on religious zealotry, with the way he has control over his soldiers, and what he wants to do with apes.

We are now 15 years removed from the original simian virus that began to plague the earth when Caesar was young. Beyond “Rise” and “Dawn”, the apes and humans are in a full out…war. Caesar still wants to believe in peace, while his apes have become an extremely strong and effective army. They are isolated in the forests, away from humans. But the Alpha Omega wants to wipe them all out, no matter what.

This is clearly stated after a group of AO tries to infiltrate the apes’ domain. Caesar’s army wards them off, but instead of killing their captives, he sends them back to the Colonel as a peace offering. He wants to show him that they are not savages, and that they can come to terms.

But there is no negotiating with the Colonel. He comes to the camp himself, later that night, with another group of his men. They find a group of apes sleeping, and he kills them. What he doesn’t realize, and somewhat comes to regret, is that he has taken almost everything away from Caesar. He was mostly after Caesar, who had evaded his attack; and now, Caesar wants revenge.

He has dreams of Koba, the ape who was his friend and became his enemy in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, in which Koba is still trying to convince him that all humans are evil. The Colonel makes it very easy to believe that belief.

In fact, unlike “Dawn”, there are nearly zero sympathetic human characters. We have The Colonel, who is cold and icy, extremely clinically played by Harrelson–one of his strongest roles to date. He has a right hand man, Preacher (Gabriel Chavarria), who was spared by Caesar but seemingly unaffected by his good gesture. Preacher is a killing machine, doing the bidding of The Colonel without much else of a personality.

Also doing the bidding of Alpha Omega, surprisingly, are other apes. Known as “donkeys”, these are basically servants of the humans. They load cannons, carry their loads, and sometimes are used as human shields. They are defectors from Caesar’s group, believing moreso in Koba. When Koba was killed, I guess they believed all hope was lost for them. They seem to resent Caesar and still want to survive, so they put up with humans and are treated like animals.

Caesar starts to allow his hate consume him, and goes on a revenge mission to find and kill the Colonel. The other apes had found a peaceful relocation in the desert, where they would be far away from humans and their relentless pursuit of genocide. Caesar wants to go alone, but his closest friends and soldiers won’t let that happen. We’re reintroduced to his inner circle: Maurice the Orangutan (Karin Konoval), who still can mostly only use sign language to speak, much like many of the other apes; Rocket (Terry Notary), a chimpanzee, and Luca, a gorilla. They set off, while the other apes go their own way to find the desert.

The troupe run into a home, occupied by a single man, who tries to kill them. When he is killed first, the apes enter the house, and find a little girl (Amiah Miller). They try to find out her name, but she cannot speak. Maurice convinces Caesar to take her with them, even though he is reluctant.

They also come across what is basically the film’s only comic relief, a zoo chimp named “Bad Ape” (that’s what he calls himself), played by Steve Zahn. Some of his antics are a little off in tone; but for the most part, he’s a needed mood breaker, as the film is very bleak nearly throughout.

This comes to a head when Caesar reaches AO’s compound, only to find that his ape companions that were set off to find the desert have been captured and are being used for hard labor to build a wall. Political undertones, anyone? Quite timely.

As stated above, this film pulls no punches in its narrative. The seemingly heartless Colonel truly is wicked and incessantly cruel to the apes. He has some exchanges personally with Caesar, whom he begrudgingly admires in a way. But then we learn why the Colonel is the way he is: he had a son, who had the virus, but survived. Apparently, the side effect is…devolution. He began to lose his ability to speak, and was reduced to being “an animal” in his fathers’ eyes. When Caesar accuses him of being without mercy, the Colonel throws the virus in Caesar’s face, and asks what’s merciful.

We learn that this devolution has affected a great deal of humans. Along their way to the compound, Caesar and his group come across soldiers left for dead, that also cannot speak–much like the girl. It is assumed she is affected by this as well.

So, the Colonel wants to “purify” the human race by doing away with any survivors who are still infected with the disease. It’s never explicitly explained, but that seems to be why he’s building a wall. Isolate the pure, and destroy everything else.

It would first seem that the Colonel represents the rest of the human race–but that’s not the case. AO is a defector group themselves. And apparently, the other armies are coming for them.

All of this, of course, sets up a large battle as Caesar tries to free the apes, meanwhile the Colonel prepares for the other human armies to come after him.

The film does a fascinating job of steering clear of cliches and tropes that usually bog down a narrative like this. It’s not that humans are bad, they’re misguided. It’s not that apes are savages, either, obviously. But beyond that, there are things that happen that are unexpected, and the surprises are very satisfying. Of course, the strong performances by Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson help the film greatly. And, like in “Dawn”, the CGI is amazing. Even more brilliant in this one, I think. I really never felt like I was watching computer generated images. The apes, interacting with the humans and landscapes, all felt real.

There are some tough parts to watch: there is torture, and senseless deaths. There are times where you really do get emotionally involved to the point where you forget you’re watching a science fiction film. Of course there’s symbolism here; but it can be appreciated on a very literal level as well. Mercy, forgiveness, and intolerance are at the forefront. But even subtle hints at language and communication are handled well. In fact, in the last half hour or so of the film, there is almost no dialogue at all.

Caesar’s struggle with dealing with humans is challenged by the innocence of the girl, whom he grows an affection for. The Colonel should be an easily hated villain; but something happens that changes your perception on that as well. And just when you think you know where the climax is going, something else happens that shakes everything up–literally.

This is a rare rebooted series, in which it got stronger with each film, culminating in this film, which I believe is as close to a masterpiece as you can get. The weaker elements (the tonal shifts with Bad Ape, and the underdeveloped Preacher) are far outweighed by the strengths of everything else. This is a visually remarkable film; but it’s also emotionally gripping, and extremely intense in its third act.

It certainly belongs in the discussion of great trilogies; and even if the series continues, if it is left in the hands of Matt Reeves and the others that made these films, I think it has limitless possibilities. We’ve seen the “rise”, the “dawn” and now the “war”. If that’s the end, I have no complaints.

But I can’t deny that I’d be hungry for more, if they continued to surprise me like they did here.

My rating: :D

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

August 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Look out, Hollywood! The apes are back! But where’s Estella Warren? Hm? Where are you?? She’s gone…it’s all gone. It’s all been re-booted. In the totally original genre called “re-booting” franchises that was handled with brilliance like in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (which would have been a hated movie by me if I could have just stayed awake throughout it)…or wait, I think that was just a remake. This is a true re-boot. It’s like “Star Trek”; except, it’s different. There’s no Captain Kirk, for one thing.

So let me tell you the plot because it’s OMG so totally WeSoMEZZ (I just made that up; think it can become a meme?)

It’s about this guy (James Franco, who holds a record of being miscast in films; I think his streak is up to 5 now or something) who wants to treat his dad (the Harry-less John Lithgow, who trades Sasquatch for a chimp) for Alzheimer’s disease by creating a retrovirus called “113” and tests it on apes. The result? The chimps have a heightened intelligence. This is pretty amazing, of course. But it doesn’t impress his boss, played as standard as possible by David Oyelowo (say that five times fast! starting…now!), and so the project is scrapped. Well, there is a test subject that he takes home with him, named Caesar (named after the dressing), and this is no ordinary chimp–it’s a CGI! (Chimp Graphic Interface). Forgive the cheap joke.

Well, Caesar is quite limber and intelligent, and the film spends a few reels showing something that’s very akin to cut-scenes in a video game as we see Caesar grow up and become more intelligent; meanwhile, Dear Old Dad is given a dose of the medicine as well, and it actually works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever…and he replases eventually. Meanwhile, the guy, Will, develops a relationship with a doctor named…oh…you know? I don’t remember. Why? Because she serves no purpose other than to say a few things to Will about how careful he should be. And they kiss at some point. Finally! The film lapses through about 8 years–this girl knows how to hold out.

Also, Caesar starts to really emo out. He gets lonely and sad, and wonders if he’s just considered a pet (which he is), and winds up taking out his self-loathing on a neighbor (who gets a few shots taken at him…but not enough payoff). He is sent to a little…monkey prison, where he is tormented by Draco Malfoy (well, Tom Felton, the guy who played him) to the point where Emo Caesar starts to really get peeved. He befriends the apes in the prison, and they basically break out and wreak havoc.

And that’s actually where this movie is so disappointing! Here you’ve got a pretty entertaining premise, and Andy Serkis is so good as a CGI actor that he’s basically a human special effect…possibly the best ever. But they go so by the book, standard, garden variety, no violence and no real tension…it’s not that it’s boring, it’s just that it’s so sterile! This movie could have had a lot of fun with itself, or gone the complete opposite direction and make it a real bloodbath. Apes just killing and pillaging and whatnot.

Instead, the movie feels like some kind of weird kid’s movie, which isáconfusing because kids would probably be scared to death of these chimps once they turn, and I gotta believe zoos better be aware that kids need to be told that A) the chimps in the zoo are not computer generated and B) not going to suddenly go America all over your ass.

Yes, the apes hold our attention more than the cardboard cut out human characters; but they’re also given very formulaic personalities that never really lets them breathe…so we get something that could be maybe enjoyed at a Drive-In; but it could have been a really fun movie if it wasn’t so Studio-tweaked.

I wanted to have fun with the movie; but it just didn’t let you in. It looks good, the CGI is well used, and the emo factor is fantastic–all Caesar is missing are the bangs. And maybe a Twitter account. But this movie just doesn’t explore any of the amazing possibilities (like Apes using Twitter) that it had, so we’re left with a very banal and standard action film that’s so synthetic that we can’t connect with any of it.

I can only hope the sequels do something more; but I highly doubt that’ll happen.

Maybe they could at least use LinkedIn though…

My rating: :(

Avatar

December 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

James Cameron had this film in his mind for over 15 years, and it had been in the making for about 4. He wanted to create a world, a race of people, all designed through CGI. In 1994, this would have been considered groundbreaking. Indeed, when he was on “60 Minutes” this past fall, he kept using that word. But it wasn’t just the CGI. He invented his own camera to do the 3-D work. 3-D is something that I’ve always been very reluctant to sit through in a movie theatre. It can be overhyped and overrated, and sometimes it is just bad. But this entire movie was going to be filmed in 3-D, and that was going to be quite an accomplishment. Cameron even waited throughout the years, claiming that he wanted the technology to be ready for him when he made it.

I guess the wait was worth it. “Avatar” is one of the best visual achievements I’ve ever seen. The 3-D, while taxing on the eyes due to its 160 minute running length, is exhilarating and breathtaking at certain sequences when you actually feel like you’re on the planet with these creatures. The depth of the world is incredible, nearly on par with “The Lord of the Rings”–although some of the species of creatures are just a little too familiar and uninspired.

And speaking of that, the plot of the film can be criticized for being that as well. While the visuals will impress enough to get you through the film, it’s a shame that the narrative is drawn out and somewhat boring because the characters are extremely bland. Cameron brought a world to life, but he didn’t include a cast of characters to help it along. It is also needlessly complex. Cameron had said he wanted to make a film of “every science fiction story he ever saw growing up”. I guess he pulled that off, but there has to be a point where the creative process takes over. This has “Dances With Wolves”, “Last of the Mohicans”, “Pocahontas”, written all over it.

Although the characters are uninteresting, I do have to say that the performance by Sam Worthington, as Jake Sully, was exceptional. I think that at times the CGI took away from an emotional connection as well. Yes, we do see some impressive things–but we do still see that it’s CGI. And because some of the animation is just too computer generated, something is lost.

Cameron sometimes can really benefit, however, with some script doctoring; it’s a shame he doesn’t have a co-writer. Even George Lucas sought the help of people like Tom Stoppard when he hit a wall. Cameron’s dialog is on par with throwback comic book writing of the 50’s and 60’s. It’s just painful sometimes to listen to. This plagued “Titanic” at times as well. The main villain in this film is about as bad and one dimensional as I’ve seen Cameron create. He made Bennett in “Commando” look more realistic.

I will say that Cameron deserves credit for delivering where it mattered most, and that’s visually. But the film is still a film, and a film needs a great narrative in order to be considered a great film. It’s a great spectacle, but not a great movie. It is wonderful to look at, which makes it a worthwhile film to watch.

But it could have been one of our great epics with a great storyline and characters to aid it. It’d be interesting to see what a person thinks of this film while watching it on the small screen, with no 3-D. I think it’s pretty easy to determine that this film loses a lot of luster that way. And a great film is not something that should depend on what kind of technology in which you watch it.

My rating: :-)