Monday, August 28, 2017
APEPOCALYPSE NOW: a review of "War For The Planet Of The Apes"
Based upon characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Screenplay Written by Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves
Directed by Matt Reeves
***1/2 (three and a half stars)
RATED PG 13
Some time ago when the initial reviews were beginning to make their rounds throughout the internet, I happened upon one in particular that I am compelled to recall a piece of at this time. Frankly, I am unable to think of where I saw it or whom the writer was, but regardless, this particular critic essentially stated that they felt that human beings may not fully deserve a film like this one. And after having seen it myself, I am nearly inclined to agree.
Matt Reeves' "War For The Planet Of The Apes," the third and final installment of the re-booted film series is not an enjoyable film by any stretch but it is an exceedingly powerful and poignant one. Just as Reeves demonstrated with his previous chapter, "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes' (2014), we have a film that is truthfully not concerned with adhering to the rules, so to speak, of escapist, genre films and filmmaking. Again, Reeves has transcended the film's science-fiction trappings and therefore, any potential campiness, to ensure that what we experience is a film that serves as a dark allegory to our own collective history as human beings, most notably our intense failures which inch us closer to our own annihilation.
That quality is precisely why I also ponder if we, as human beings do indeed deserve a film like this one, especially now in our terrifying, turbulent 2017, a film where we are required to align our sympathies with the characters of the apes as we regard the ruthlessness of our human counterparts. Matt Reeves holds up a brutally grim mirror to ourselves. For those of you wishing to take in a night at the movies solely for the purpose of turning off your brains and regarding the CGI pyrotechnics, War For The Planet Of The Apes," for all of its CGI magic and action sequences, is defiantly not that kind of a movie. Reeves has delivered something much better, more soulful and unapologetically stirring.
Set two years after the events of the second film, "War For The Planet Of The Apes" finds the titular apes and their leader, the chimpanzee Caesar (the brilliant Andy Serkis) under attack from the human military, most specifically the rogue paramilitary faction known as Alpha-Omega, which is led by the ruthless, savage renegade known only as The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
While The Colonel's outpost--complete with an interment/work/death camp for enslaved apes--has him preside over his troops, which also include a collective of equally renegade (yet enslaved) apes, as a merciless would-be King, Caesar still wishes to remain peaceful with the remaining humans that exist by simply being left alone with his brethren deep in the woods. Yet, that is not to be as The Colonel's ambush of the apes' territory and his murder of Caesar's wife and one of his children fuels Caesar's more than justified thirst for revenge.
As the ape colony exits the woods for a new, safe haven across a desert, Caesar departs his species in order to exact vengeance upon The Colonel, and with his adviser the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), the gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and the chimpanzee Rocket (Terry Notary), and soon joined by an old, hermit chimpanzee dubbed Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) and a mute, human child Maurice names Nova (Amiah Miller) all in tow.
But when, Caesar's colony is gravely endangered by the increasingly malicious Colonel, Caesar is confronted with his most primal impulses which clash with his highest aspirations for his species and their ultimate survival in an increasingly turbulent world.
Matt Reeves' "War For The Planet Of The Apes" is a pitch black affair and appropriately so. Through the dark, somber nature of the presentation, Reeves concocts an experience that contains equal parts elegy and fury. It is a resplendently produced film that further confirms that Michael Seresin remains one of our most valuable Cinematographers and Reeves has utilized his special effects/CGI team beautifully as we are given visual effects so elegant, seamless and photo realistic that after mere moments of screen time, the effects are not noticeable at all and we simply believe in everything taking place before our eyes.
And again, what a sight, what a formidable presence we have in Andy Serkis, whose motion capture performance as Caesar raises his own bar even higher. This is a towering performance of great nuance, depth, rage, sorrow, and complexity that I truly believe that he achieved something that could easily be considered as Shakespearian in its heft. Just regard his eyes, facial expressions, the physicality of his entire body, the gravity of his elocution and the entirety of his spirit which flows through all of the CGI artistry on display and tell me that this man does not richly deserve some sort of awards season attention and recognition--even if the powers that be have to invent a category for him!
While the excellent special effects and performances from Andy Serkis and the entire cast are paramount to the success of "War For The Planet Of The Apes," everything on the screen exists to serve a story that contributes to the overall humanism of the proceedings. As with the original quintet of films (all released between 1968-1973), "War For The Planet Of The Apes" serves itself as an explicit allegory to our past human history. Yet, unlike the original series, Reeves ensures that there is not even one moment that could be considered as camp. Reeves' aesthetic actually reminded me quite a bit about what Christopher Nolan achieved with his presentation of Batman, as he treated the character not as a comic book but as something more Dickensian in tone and feeling.
Matt Reeves' two films within this new "Planet Of The Apes" series are decidedly more adult in tone and not terribly interested in anything resembling cinematic popcorn. With "War For The Planet Of The Apes" especially, he is clearly evoking images, situations, themes and concepts strictly designed for us to make connections with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, or Nat Turner and the slave uprising of 1831, for instance. Caesar's revenge/exodus mission and inner conflicts are certainly fraught with powerful Biblical allegory as the tale of his attempt to lead his ape community to the Promised Land is nothing less than the story of Moses and furthermore, Caesar's imprisonment and torture at the hands of The Colonel certainly stands in for the story of Jesus Christ and the Romans before his ultimate Crucifixion.
Even turning towards The Colonel, whose figure certainly recalls the madness of Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (1979), we have a character who feels ripped from the front pages as his tyrannical pursuit of species purity and human dominance, in part, leads to his desire to build a wall on the backs of the apes' to further separate the infected humans and the apes he has not enslaved from the so-called purity of himself. Woody Harrelson, in a rare performance of such cruel intensity, dances to the edges of what he achieved in Oliver Stone's blistering "Natural Born Killers" (1994), perfectly adding to the urgency of the story with a riveting malevolence.
And with that, again I do wonder if we, as human beings, even deserve a film like this one--a feature this thoughtful and even wrenching, as we are essentially required to somehow root for our own extinction, or at least, acknowledge that we have had it coming for quite a long time. Are we elevated enough to be able to take a harsh look at our own inhumanity which has soiled our collective humanity in the past and definitely, the present and unquestionably, our future? Can we really accept responsibility for the damage we have done to each other and the only world we have?
Matt Reeves' "War For The Planet Of The Apes" treats this specialized genre fiction with a grave reality that is impossible to ignore and in fact, he even spells out our doom directly within the film's title! For at our own hands, arrogance, and hubris, we will meet our collective downfall, making whatever takes our place inevitable and even justified.