‘Blu-ray or Bust’
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017, PG-13, 140 minutes, CHERNIN ENTERTAINMENT/20TH CENTURY FOX)
Oh, Hollywood—you great, creative beast, you!
Yeah, yeah, I know: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is a “re-make”. But seriously, the bar keeps getting reset with every installment of the PLANET OF THE APES films. The animation/CGI gets better, the performances improve, the cinematography has become grander and more affective. All of this, all of the artistic work that was set forth in the two most recent films, has culminated in an epic story of redemption and survival. This final installment is so much more than its predecessors. It is a simian road movie, a jailbreak actioner, and a battleground drama, all rolled into one. Think UNFORGIVEN meets THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI meets FULL METAL JACKET.
Leading the charge once again is Andy Serkis’s “Caesar”. His performance in WAR is a devastatingly honest one. Forced from their home in the woods, Caesar goes on a hunt for the man known only as “The Colonel” (Woody Harrelson, who at times sounds more like Colonel Kurtz from APOCALYPSE NOW than he does anything else). The Colonel is responsible for way too many ape deaths, and is supposedly mounting one final assault on the surviving group of apes. Caesar feels he has no choice but to hunt this one human down, no matter how many soldiers the Colonel commands. Of course, his motivation is nestled securely in a need for revenge, but that is where the film gets interesting. The “war” in the title isn’t just about a giant battle between ape and man; it’s more about the war raging within Caesar, the one ape who prefers mercy over violence. To see his internal struggle is fascinating—remember, that is a real human artist underneath all those CGI effects.
Yes, there is an epic battle at the end, but the combatants aren’t what you are thinking. Sometimes, the best movies about war are the ones that don’t focus on the war aspect. They focus on the individuals, keeping the war as a second and occasionally subtle third character. The addition of Steve Zahn as “Bad Ape” lends this film more humor than that tonally serious second one had. Director and co-writer Matt Reeves knows the strengths of this series, and his pacing is perfect, as is the cinematography by Michael Seresin (who also shot DAWN).
The special features are more than you would expect; not only do you get the usual behind-the-scenes docs, but you get to see Serkis exploring his craft and the difficulties of filming in really freaking cold weather in thin lycra suits. Also, seeing the side-by-side shots of the actors in their suits and the finished results helps show not just how many differences the CGI provides, but also how the actor’s performances are enhanced by it.
The magic of this film is that you forget you aren’t watching real apes—you have the special effects crew and the artists under all that animated fur to thank for that. The true winner here, though, is Serkis. He may not be the first artist to have played Caesar, but he is the best, and if his performance here doesn’t earn him an Oscar nod, then Hollywood needs to checkity-check itself. As wonderfully inspiring as it occasionally is, it would be a shame to not recognize the efforts of some truly talented artists.
Film Grade: A
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Absolutely
-- T.S. Kummelman