Review: “War For The Planet Of The Apes”

Posted by Michael Parsons on June 26, 2017 in / 1 Comment


Director Matt Reeves and crew continue to astonish with the ostensible conclusion to a franchise that started as a respectable revitalization and proceeded to surpass all expectations as the best iconic prequel series of recent memory.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was a fantastic action movie, a fluid fusion of practical and digital effects that overwhelmed but never overloaded, as various factions of simian and human duked it out with all manner of armaments. Without a doubt most impressive was the expressive realism among the titular stars, made possible by the latest and greatest in motion capture technology.

This film is no less impressive. At its center is physical actor extraordinaire Andy Serkis, who plays the ape leader Caesar, a formidable but peace-seeking chimpanzee whose rapidly evolving intellect has provided a vocabulary better than your average college graduate. He has built an war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes-posterarmy—not to mount an epic offensive, but rather to protect his species–and more specifically, his family.

In “War for the Planet of the Apes”, which, in and of itself, is actually less of a full-on war movie than its predecessor (though bookended by two very well choreographed battle sequences), Caesar and his primates find themselves hunted by a ruthless commando (Woody Harrelson).

After a staggering loss at the hands of Harrelson’s crazy-eyed Colonel, Caesar ventures out, hellbent on revenge. Fearing his instincts are hewing too close to the vengeful Koba (Toby Kebbell), Caesar sets out on his own, leaving infant Cornelius to be cared for by the rest of the clan.

The undertaking in this new film is greater than ever: there is considerably more time spent among the apes, as the only true human protagonist is a mute little girl named Nova (Amiah Miller), a character people my age will recognize from the 1968 classic.

Alternating between speech and sign language, we are immersed in ape culture for lengthy periods of time; our proper introduction to the evil homo-sapiens doesn’t occur until at least halfway through the film.

For those folks—especially parents—unfamiliar with this franchise, it’s  not like “The Jungle Book” in which the lexicon of the animal kingdom is translated into English; here we are to believe that these creatures are actually becoming sophisticated enough  to speak and use automatic weapons. Once your eyes have feasted on it for more than five minutes,  any doubt will wane.

Amidst the incredible FX and big, beautiful set pieces, there is a brutal melancholy that permeates Caesar’s disintegrating kingdom, a sense of loss that most human-exclusive flicks fail to acheive. Where the trees end and the world of the Colonel begins, there is a fortress that serves as a concentration camp, seemingly right at the gates of hell.

But the Colonel’s wall is clearly a barrier from a larger threat: other humans. Harrelson makes  his slightly psychotic, unabashedly Brando-esque (pay attention to the subterranean walls for that acknowledgement) rogue  an individual who’s proven capable of killing his own in order to protect his species, but with a suffocating air of regret, a single photograph speaking the proverbial thousand words about what he once had.

Having a multi-dimentional antagonist is key, and let’s face it, rare (at least to favorable effect). Nobody is immune to the virus, the simian flu that has wiped out most of the population. Yet no one falls victim to convention. Colonel’s army of drones, with the exception of one, are relatively flavorless. Yet they are there as an allegory for some horrific moments in history in which soldiers have blindly followed a murderous dictator. This point is neither subtle nor heavy-handed, the plotting is handled with great care.

“War of the Planet of the Apes” is written by returning penman Mark Bomback and director Matt Reeves, enriched by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver’s character back story contribution in 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. At 142 minutes and with only a little bit of lag, this flick will make you clutch that 42-ounce soda while your bladder punishes you for consuming it all the way until the credits roll.

There is a deluge of finely tuned action, with exceptional cinematography (returning DP Michael Seresin) and what are bound to be a couple of the year’s biggest practically manufactured explosions. But the film’s best attribute is its humanity. It is truly an emotional picture, even when it doesn’t feel like it’s trying. Reeves’ movie is not without its laughs, to be sure: Steve Zahn plays a skittish chimp designated Bad Ape by his previous human captors who is hilarious at the right moments, though never relegated to the comic relief corner. Rather, this fragile, hyper-sensitive character adds depth to a film that barely needed it, and is one of its most impressive and realistic, expressive components. His weathered appearance alone elicits sympathy, as one can only imagine what type of physical abuse he’s endured.

Area theaters July 14th

– M. Parsons 2017

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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