War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) | Ape-ocalypse Now! Adventure and spectacle never looked so awesome
Imagine if Cecil B De Mille and Irwin Allen created a Planet of Apes sequel and decided to fuse elements from The Ten Commandments, The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai, while also paying homage to the original Ape movies… boom! You’ve got War for the Planet of the Apes aka Ape-ocalypse Now! – where spectacle and adventure collide on a colossal scale – but with a complex morality fable racing through.
Did I like it? Hell yes! Picking up two after the events of Dawn, Caesar and the surviving ape colony have been hiding out deep in the forest when they come under attack from a band of soldiers, who are quickly subdued. In an act of mercy, Caesar spares the lives of the survivors, but their leader, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson), launches a devastating counter-attack.
With knowledge that forces from the North are heading their way, Caesar plans to send the colony out of the forest to a safe haven in the desert – but there’s a little matter of revenge against the ape-hating McCullough to sort out first…
[WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD]
What follows is Caesar undergoing an existential crisis as he struggles between becoming like his nemesis Koba whom he defeated in Dawn (but who still haunts Caesar) by getting violent revenge on the humans, and also dealing with the challenge of leading his tribe (just like Moses) to a Promised Land.
Of course he can’t do it without some help: so we have the ever-reliable Rocket (the brawn) and Maurice (the brains and Caesar’s conscience) accompanying him, along with Steve Zahn’s former zoo inmate, Bad Ape (who supplies the film’s only comic relief) and an orphaned girl (Amiah Miller) who Maurice takes under his protection – giving her the name Nova (could she be Chuck Heston’s rescued damsel from Planet of the Apes?).
The fact that little Nova can’t speak is another link to POTA where all of the humans were mute. Seems that pesky virus from Rise has had far-reaching effects. It could also provide a clue as to where this reboot franchise could be heading if War does just as well at the box office as the first two.
Caesar is soon into Heart of Darkness territory when Harrelson’s shaven-headed Kurtz-like Colonel captures the apes – including Caesar’s young son Cornelius – and forces them to work as slaves. Now, its time for Caesar to put on Dickie Attenborough’s officier’s hat and devise a Great Escape with the help of his sidekicks…
Like I said before, I loved War and those movie riffs, especially to the original Ape movies of which I’m a huge lifelong fan were a treat. The one that really tickled me was when Caesar is seen in silhouette as fires burn around him, which recalls the closing shot in Conquest of the Planet of Apes when Roddy McDowall’s Caesar delivers his ‘birth of the Planet of the Apes’ speech after defeating his captors. And those scary crucifixes seen in the first two movies also feature.
But while some may think it lazy film-making creating a movie based on the best scenes from classic big screen adventures, what makes this adventure so enthralling is the epic cinematography and the genuinely touching performances of all the motion-capture ape characters – with Andy Serkis providing some richly deep commanding vocal talent to his slightly greying and grizzled Caesar and Karin Konoval returning as my favourite – the marvellous Maurice. Then there’s the solid screenplay which brings brings lots of light and shadow and complexity to what could be seen as another ‘Apes good, Man bad’ scenario.
This is what summer blockbusters should be all about – adventure and spectacle on an awesome scale – but with a bit of heart and soul and moral complexity.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) | As a devotee of the original franchise, this reboot is a ripper!
With Film4 showing Rise of the Planet of the Apes tonight at 9pm (Sky 315/342, Virgin 428/29, Freeview 15, Freesat 300), here’s my 2011 review on the reboot.
For fans of the original Planet of the Apes films, the idea of rebooting the series, especially after Tim Burton’s disappointing attempt, was always going to be met with suspicion. I’m a huge POTA devotee myself, but I can safely say that Rise of the Planet of the Apes meets the challenges head-on, with an exciting action-packed sci-fi adventure that is wholly original, but with a few loving nods to the original.
The story follows Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis), an ape born in a lab and raised by its young scientist creator (James Franco), who has been given the gift of intelligence through genetically altered genes passed down from his mother Bright Eyes. When the growing ape is sent to an animal welfare shelter by the courts after displaying an act of aggression, Caesar discovers his own kind, abandoned and neglected. Taking control of the group of imprisoned apes, Caesar then puts in motion a plan to release the apes from their human bondage.
The most fun I had was in recognising the little nods to the original POTA films. Caesar’s mother is called Bright Eyes, the name Zira called Charlton Heston’s astronaut Taylor in the original film. Heston also appears on TV (an animal shelter guard is watching one of his old movies). Even the Statue of Liberty, which appeared in the original film’s iconic ending, crops up as a children’s model kit.
While imprisoned in the animal shelter, Caesar befriends an ex-circus orangutan called Maurice (named after British actor Maurice Evans, who played the orangutan scientist Dr Zaius in the original film). Caesar is even hosed down by an evil guard (just like Heston in the original), who then utters one of Heston’s lines, ‘This is a madhouse!’. But Heston’s most famous line: ‘Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!’ is saved for one of Rise’s most important scenes.
From the obvious to the obscure, I could write an entire essay on all the elements from the old series that have been integrated into the reboot, but I won’t bore you with that here. Still it’s a lot of fun spotting them. The most obvious is how strongly Rise resembles the third film in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In that film, apes have become slaves to man, replacing cats and dogs as pets. Caesar (Roddy McDowall), an intelligent ape born of the time-travelling Cornelius and Zira, leads a bloody revolt against man. Rise does exactly the same. It even has similar shots of Caesar standing proud and defiant against his former captors, just like McDowall does in the closing scenes of Conquest.
As for the motion capture effects, they are extraordinary. I really found myself empathising with the simian characters, especially the loveable Maurice; Buck, the caged gorilla who becomes Caesar’s heavyweight protector; and Koba, the scarred, abused bonobo who has his one good eye on taking down his human jailers. Rise also neatly sets itself up for a sequel as a mission to Mars becomes lost in space (Heston’s team does the same in POTA, even the spacecraft shares the same name, Icarus). But only a healthy return at the box office can guarantee the new franchise continuing. (ED: That of course happened – but not the way I predicted – with this year’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, click on the link for my review).
Rise is great fun for POTA fans, but for the uninitiated, its also an expertly crafted slice of sci-fi escapism that draws you in with an exciting universal story and heroic, heartfelt characters – both human and simian, real and imagined.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28Z_D9Grh18%5D
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) | Explosive! Exhilarating! Epic! Long may the fur-tastic adventures continue…
Apes Strong Together!
Ten years after a man-made simian flu epidemic has decimated the human population on Earth, Ceasar (Andy Serkis) and his genetically enhanced simian pals have established a colony of their own in Muir Woods National Park outside San Francisco. But their existence comes under threat by a small group of humans, headed up by the good-natured Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who want to restart a hydroelectric dam in order to restore power to the city.
When young ape Ash is shot and wounded by Carver (Kirk Acevedo), a member of Malcolm’s group, Caesar’s leadership and loyalty is called into question by Koba (Toby Kebbell), the bonobo chimp that Ceasar saved during their flight from captivity a decade ago. Wanting no ape blood spilled, Ceasar brokers a deal with the humans: they can repair the dam, but only if the humans in the city leave the colony alone in return.
Ceasar, however, is unaware that Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), the humans’ self-appointed leader, is preparing to wipe out the apes using a cache of weapons stored in an armory. But there’s an even greater threat closer to home. Still nursing the physical and psychological scars of being tortured and kept locked in a cage by humans, Koba plots to dethrone Ceasar and convince Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), the ape leader’s impressionable son, to join him on a devastating attack on the city’s unsuspecting inhabitants…
Explosive! Exhilarating! Epic!
This sequel to 2011’s surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes is everything a cinema blockbuster should be, and amazingly its even better than its predecessor. The motion capture effects are so darn impressive that its impossible not to get caught up in the riveting story or be won over by the nuanced performances that come through the digitally-created simian characters, especially Serkis’s heroic Ceasar and Kebbell’s vengeful Koba.
And if you strip away the digital fur, you’ll discover an epic tragedy worthy of Shakespeare (there’s shades of King Lear, Hamlet and Othello in there), with Ceasar and Koba taking centre stage as the two friends who become formidable foes when they clash over how best to deal with the human threat.
Central to the film’s story is what it takes to be a good leader, respected father and faithful soldier – and this is mirrored in both the ape and human communities. But while the humans are portrayed as aggressive and territorial (particularly Oldman’s Dreyfus), Ceasar – who wants to see the goodness in man – is forced to accept that apes also share a taste for death and destruction when Koba’s manipulations lead the apes into war.
This latest prequel reboot is explosive stuff, with the testosterone levels (both human and ape) reaching critical – especially when the apes gets their hands on the armory. But being a Boys’ Own adventure, the film’s female characters have little voice. Ceasar’s wife Cornelia (a reference to Cornelius in the original films, perhaps?) remains bedridden and sickly after giving birth to a second son, while Malcolm’s new wife Ellie (Keri Russell) functions only as a nurse maid. This sidelining, however, does highlight the inherent weakness in all patriarchal societies and dictatorships – that the male of the species always resorts to ruling with violence (or maybe that’s just me reading too much into it).
If there is one criticism its with Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Malcolm’s teenage son, whose story ends up getting lost in the 3D fray. He does however get to share some quality screen time with one of my favourite simian characters, Maurice the orangutan (named after Maurice Evans, the British actor who played Dr Zaius in Planet of the Apes).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes certainly does share the same nihilistic themes that were key to the final films of the original franchise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Battle of the Planet of Apes (1973), and has some knowning nods to the earlier entries, but this futuristic adventure is very much its own chest-beating beast. And if the final shot is anything to go by then long may the fur-tastic simian adventures continue.