Sunday, July 16, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

Monkeys and guns equal good summer fun.

You know what we don't get more of? Movie trilogies.

In the age of the extended universe, whether it's the MCU, DCEU, or Universal embarrassingly trying to make its Dark Universe for some reason, we live in an age where every movie is now connected into one giant, cohesive narrative. Everything connects to everything, and you need to be paying attention to it all in order to follow what's going on. It's easy to see where the positives and the negatives of this dynamic are, but in this new paradigm, movie trilogies have kind of faded into the ether.

Back in the day, if you wanted to do a big series that made an impact on popular culture, it was usually in the form of a trilogy. Star Wars, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, even Christopher Nolan's Batman movies were all trilogies that left a significant impact on a generation. Trilogies were also much easier to digest in one singular dose. You could easily block out a day to watch three movies that all told one gigantic story, and usually the results would be pretty great. But now, if you wanted to sit down and watch a gigantic story, you'd need to go through over a dozen movies, and even then you'd only be interested in a few significant movies and small parts of smaller movies.

What I'm trying to get at is that it's hard to make a good trilogy nowadays, but because it just seems like having massive cinematic universes are more beneficial to studios. So here we have War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion to a movie trilogy that began in 2011 that released this weekend. Now I know that this was supposed to be my break week, and rest assured next week is going to be my break week I swear, but I just needed to write about War for the Planet of the Apes after I saw it. It's being marketed as being the greatest conclusion to a trilogy in the past decade, and after sitting through it, all I can say is that yeah, it's pretty damn good. Not as phenomenal as people are making it out to be, but still, a great sit all around.

Our story picks up a few years after Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where Caesar is still living in the woods with his apes and staying as far away from humans. However, a roaming militia group is constantly pestering him and tries to kill Caesar and his tribe, but they're repelled fairly well by the apes. That is until Caesar encounters the Colonel, who forces Caesar into action and sets off a true war between humans and apes. Little do they know that the Simian Flu virus that gave apes their sentience is now also having weird affects on humans now too, so the fighting is truly at its end.

First thing's first, the title is incredibly misleading for me. If you're going into this movie expecting a true war between apes and humans, this isn't it. In fact, I'd argue that this movie should have been called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for how definitive its ending is. Most of the fighting in this series takes place in the previous movie, so why wasn't that one called War for the Planet of the Apes?

I know it's a nitpick and it's weird to start off on that, but when the movie is advertised as being a giant action movie for the fate of humanity, and its doesn't deliver, it's a bit jarring. Now I'm not holding that against the film though, just the marketing of the movie. The movie is actually a slower, more dramatic movie about how the apes can finally live at peace away from the humans. Most of the dialogue comes from apes this time and there are only a few scenes involving humans, let alone humans that talk.

It is a bit disappointing that nearly every single human in this movie is some level of militant extremist, mostly because the humans in the previous two Apes movies were so good, but Woody Harrelson as the Colonel does a fair job at what he's given. He's the logical extremist here. He knows that humanity is going to die out unless hes proactive, so he actively hunts the apes to save what's left of humanity. It makes sense given that every character here has suffered because of the apes rise to power, but it's still a bit disappointing to me that every human is an asshole and are pretty deceitful, especially since Dawn had plenty of great human characters that created compelling drama.

No, the compelling drama here comes solely from Mr. Andy, Wait-Why-Doesn't-He-Have-An-Oscar-Yet, Serkis as Caesar. By the end of this movie, Caesar is a likable, smart, charismatic leader that can speak to the audience just by his movements alone. Often quite literally since most of the apes here speak in sign language. Andy Serkis commands as Caesar, and if he doesn't get an Oscar for his fantastic motion capture performance, the technology by the way is absolutely stunning, then nothing will.

Honestly, you really only care about Caesar at the end of the movie, but only really observant people will know what anyone else is called. This is always a nitpick for me, but I hate it when movies delay revealing a character's name, but it became super noticeable here. Caesar will travel around with a pack of other apes, and outside of one ape, the other three that tag along with him don't get named until we're well into the film. And this is a long movie too, over 2 hours to be exact, so when one of Caesar's posse does something cool, only for me to realize that I don't know his name, it can be a bit distracting.

When action does happen, it looks great and the impact of it is spectacular. There's a massive battle at the end of the movie that looks like something straight from Saving Private Ryan, a few smaller fight scenes, and a quick little scene involving monkey poop that's pretty hilarious to watch. There's not a whole lot of it though, which isn't always a bad thing, but it feels like an eternity until things actually happen.

Traditionally, most movies follow a three act structure. This structure has a whole lot of different points to it, usually about eight or nine. Now when a person complains about a part being too long, they're usually saying that it takes too long for the movie to go from each individual point to the other. For example, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has a problem where its third act is incredibly rushed. War has the problem that its second act is too long. Caesar gets the call to arms to fight the Colonel about thirty minutes into the movie, and it isn't until the final thirty minutes where Caesar is actually able to confront the Colonel. A whole lot of nothing happens in between, mostly character stuff and world building, but the world building doesn't hit and neither does the character stuff because we're only invested in Caesar by this point.

Thankfully, Caesar is compelling the entire time and seeing him be proactive is always enjoying to watch. I could listen to Caesar yell at people with his commanding voice for days. Even when a few other apes talk, what they say is incredibly important given how few lines of dialogue there are. The only human that speaks a lot is the Colonel, but outside of that I'd argue that Mad Max: Fury Road has more dialogue than War. 

Speaking of Mad Max, I can't help but feel that War for the Planet of the Apes is going to follow the same path as that movie, and I mean it in a good way. A long dormant franchise that gets revived into something truly spectacular that both critics and audiences love and will garner the love it deserves for just being a great movie. They both have important things to say, in this case what it means to really be a human, empathy, and asking whether or not it's right to survive at the cost of committing war crimes and treating others like subhumans, often quite literally.

I enjoyed my time spent with War for the Planet of the Apes. It may not be the holy grail of the summer that most people say it is, but it's a solid, entertaining, and technically impressive movie that will hopefully get the praise it deserves. It's not every day that a thinking man's sci-fi movie sneaks into the action blockbuster scene, and I want this movie to do well. Or at least better than The Emoji Movie will. That one is going to hurt. Thankfully, at least this movie was a good time, so the summer's not a complete disaster.


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