The True War For The Planet Of The Apes Is Within Caesar’s Soul

war for planet of the apes poster

The third film in the Planet of the Apes reboot/prequel, War for the Planet of the Apes, is a fitting conclusion to this unexpectedly great film trilogy. The film series follows the emotional journey of Caesar (motion captured by Andy Serkis), the super intelligent chimpanzee capable of speech who fights to defend his kind, while while he grapples with intense moral questions. In this film, Caesar is an embittered and weary leader who finds himself fighting a very different kind of war.

Taking place 15 years after the first film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this film opens with Caesar and his band of super smart apes besieged by human military forces in the thick forests of the west coast U.S. During the trilogy a deadly virus wiped out most of humanity and apes rapidly evolved to have human-level intelligence. Both humanity and apes are in dire straits. Caesar only wants his kind to be left alone, while the desperate humans see the apes as a threat to their dominion of the Earth.

Tragic events lead to Caesar undergoing a dark metamorphosis where he has come to hate humanity as vengeance rules his heart. He sets out on his own to hunt down the human responsible for his misery, a crazed soldier known as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) that leads a rogue military unit. However, his closest compatriots, which include the gentle and wise Maurice (motion captured by Karin Konoval), an orangutan,  refuse to leave his side. During their journey, they come across two new and interesting characters, Nova (Amiah Miller), a young mute human girl, and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn in a motion capture performance), a nearly hairless and humorous chimpanzee who is also able to talk. Both characters in their ways represent the downfall and promise of both species. While both Nova and Bad Ape’s arcs were fascinating to watch, Caesar’s emotional turmoil is the heart of this film and that is where the real war rages.

maurice and nova

Without giving too much away, the film’s title is misleading. War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t an action-packed military film with epic battle scenes boasting large armies. There are some well choreographed battle scenes, but this film is more of a meditative drama that makes viewers think about the moral complexities facing Caesar. It is disheartening to see Caesar’s arc from the wide eyed and innocent ape in the first film to an angry and dark soldier in this film. He is not some bloodthirsty savage and deep inside he is a good being. It is just that sad circumstances have challenged Caesar and he questions how he has changed for the worse. That is the true war in this film, where his soul is the battlefield and prize and it is not clear how this inner battle will conclude. This spiritual conflict define Caesar and makes him seem so…human and is the true highlight of War for the Planet of the Apes.

Of course, the film has so much more going for it than Caesar’s soul searching. The other characters are just as engaging as the lead ape. The Colonel is a truly frightening beast of a man who wants to ensure the survival of his species. What is disturbing to us is that we can relate to his point of view and wonder if we would be as desperate as him if we faced the same dilemma. Unlike the past films, there is less emphasis on the humans as the apes dominate the film. So as a result the human characters are not as nuanced as in past films. There are some other drawbacks to this film; mainly that the plot features some biblical allegories that are a bit heavy handed and telegraph how some stories will play out. But the film’s merits make up for the flaws.

The film boasts the best special effects of all the Apes films. By now, the CGI apes look flawless. There were many instances where it is easy to believe that real apes were used. The motion capture and the special effects are completely convincing. The film is beautifully shot with rich colors and perfect composition as we witness a richly textured post-apocalyptic world that is being reclaimed by nature and the apes.

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However, these merits would not mean anything without the brilliant performances of Serkis and the others. It is a crime that Andy Serkis has not won an Academy Award for his work and he certainly deserves one for this film as it’s his best work. The Academy just has to get over its hang up about motion capture and recognize its powerful artistry, which is this film exudes.

So, how does War for the Planet of the Apes compare with the other films in the trilogy? It is hard to say at this point, but this film holds its own compared to the earlier films, although Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best one in the series. Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes is a powerful and thoughtful finale to this trilogy that should not be missed.

José Soto

 

 

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Dawn Rises Above Other Planet Of The Apes Films

dawn poster

The newest Planet Of The Apes film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a direct sequel to the surprisingly great and captivating Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. That film introduced audiences to the wonder of Caesar (mo-capped by the great Andy Serkis), the first speaking, super intelligent ape and his struggle against humanity. That strife continues with this new film that takes place ten years after the last one. Anyone who saw the last movie knew that in the wake of Caesar’s simian uprising, a genetically engineered virus accidently began to spread throughout humanity and this new movie shows us the aftermath of the pandemic.

Half the human population is gone, but remnants of society are struggling to rebuild. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes takes place in a ruined San Francisco, where a colony of humans plan to use a dormant hydroelectric dam to restore power to the broken city. What the humans didn’t realize is that a burgeoning civilization headed by super intelligent apes (consisting of chimps, gorillas and orangutans) occupies the land where the dam is located.

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During a scouting trip, a group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) encounters the apes. A tense standoff ensues that is ended when Caesar commands the humans to leave the primeval forest. Back in San Francisco, the leader of the colony, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) wants to take an army and decimate the apes, but Malcolm recognizes Caesar’s intelligence and reason. He manages to buy time from Dreyfus to return to the forest and negotiate for permission to work on the apes’ land and reactivate the dam. Malcolm and his group return and manages to convince Caesar that they are peaceful and so the ape leader allows them to work on the dam, though he is very distrustful towards the humans.

There is a thick tension that hangs throughout this film as audiences wait for the fragile peace to break. But there are moments of quiet contemplation and reverence as Malcolm and the humans connect with Caesar and many of his apes. Of course, while many humans, especially those in the city, strongly dislike the apes, so too, do many apes harbor hostility towards the humans. Leading this contingent is the brutally ugly Koba (Toby Kebbell), who was briefly seen in the last film as a victim of lab experimentation. Koba with his ghastly scars has an unquenchable hatred towards humans and as Caesar’s second-in-command, cannot fathom why the simian leader is so lenient towards the humans. Shockingly enough, this distrust also extends to Caesar’s own son Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston), who provides an intriguing sub plot where he grapples with his own feelings towards humans. This is part of a spiritual tug of war between Caesar and Koba, as the latter ape uses deceit to bring Blue Eyes to his point of view. Continue reading

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes Brings New Life To The Apes Series

More than a prequel, more than a remake or even a reboot, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is stunning, moving and cautionary tale of man and his hubris which ultimately causes his downfall.

Strictly speaking the film is a remake of the fourth film of the original Apes series Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it completely changes the reason why the main character of the chimpanzee called Caesar is intelligent. In the original, for non-fans, the reason for Caesar’s intelligence and ability to speak is because his parents were super intelligent apes who time traveled to the modern era. It makes perfect sense in that film’s logic only it never explains why the other enslaved apes are nearly human in appearance and intelligent.

In this film, the reason for Caesar’s rise is due to genetic engineering and therein lies the movie’s mantra about mankind’s folly and the unexpected consequences of actions both good and bad.

Dr. Will Rodman (played with compassion by James Franco) is a scientist looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. He develops a retrovirus and administers it to a laboratory chimp with exciting results since she quickly shows signs of human-level intelligence. Unfortunately she is killed but not before giving birth to a baby chimp. Unwilling to have the baby infant put to sleep, Rodman sneaks  him home. Soon he discovers that the chimp (that is then named Caesar) has inherited and surpassed his mother’s uncanny intelligence.

Years pass and Rodman is trying to perfect the retrovirus as he raises Caesar and administers the cure to his ailing father (John Lithgow) who also forms his own bond with the ape. Sadly this bond brings out Caesar’s primal and protective nature which causes him to be removed from Rodman’s home and imprisoned in an ape facility. The cruel treatment he and other apes receive from the handlers there hardens Caesar against mankind and foments a simian revolution.

Before long a new version of the retrovirus is developed in Rodman’s company that can be administered as an inhalant. However, while this new strain boosts simian intelligence it turns out to be lethal to humans. At the same time, Caesar builds alliances with the other imprisoned apes (one of which is a sympathetic friendly orangutan called Maurice, who is naturally smart)and is able to escape from the facility. Caesar steals samples of the new virus and uses them to liberate his own kind. The results are one of the most thrilling and rousing uprisings seen on film.

One can’t help but root for the apes while at the same time be taken aback by their brutality and sheer power. Of course, it’s a story that speaks out against the way animals are treated not just by the medical/scientific community but how we as a species view our fellow creatures in zoos, as pets and in the wild.

Kudos should go all around to everyone who made this film possible from the actors (Franco, Lithgow, Frieda Pinto, Tom Felton, etc.) to writers Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver to director Rupert Wyatt (these three have reinvigorated the Apes saga in one fell swoop) to Weta Digital. Yes, you can tell in many scenes that CGI is being used, which makes one wonder if real-life apes could’ve been used in many scenes, but honestly it doesn’t take away from the story. That is a sign of a truly great film. Take the original Planet of the Apes, King Kong or Jaws. We know that the filmmakers in those days used dated f/x to bring their creations to life but the audience doesn’t care since they’re so caught up in the storytelling.

Special accolades go to Andy Serkis for his performance capture of Caesar. As with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings films he really brings his creations to life. He and the filmmakers make Caesar the main protagonist as he is transformed from a gifted child prodigy to a tortured prisoner to finally a heroic liberator and leader who despite his hardships holds onto a sense of decency. Serkis deserves at least a special Oscar for his work in this movie.

Viewers don’t have to be fans of the previous films to enjoy this cinematic triumph, which skillfully throws in many references to the series including a Charlton Heston cameo and his famous line from the original film “Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn, dirty ape!” The line is followed by one of the most powerful one-word replies heard on screen. There are many ways the story can be continued and this film is peppered with many suggestions of potential sequel ideas.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is a must-see for any film lover, it’s not only the best film of the summer but also one of the year’s best.

José Soto

Conquered By The Planet of The Apes

This week marks the premiere of the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the latest entry in the Planet of the Apes series. It’s seen by some as a reboot of the series or a prequel but it’s safest to state that the film is actually a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes from 1972, the fourth film in the series.    

The original film takes place in the 1990s. An off-screen plague has wiped out all the dogs and cats and human now rely on apes as both pets and servants. One thing the film doesn’t elaborate on is how modern apes were transformed into nearly human forms and essentially alike. Remember that real-life gorillas are much larger than other apes, orangutans are aboreal and in this film they both are the same size and shape along with chimps. Also by the time the film opens the apes are no longer portrayed as pets but as lower-class slaves.

The arrival of Caesar, an intelligent ape who can speak and the son of Zira and Cornelius from the earlier films brings about a change to the order of things. With the aid of some human allies, Caesar leads the apes into a bloddy revolt and out of their oppression. After the apes win their freedom, he then tells the conquered humans that this act of rebellion will be repeated all over the world and will signal the birth of “The Planet of the Apes.”

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite films in the series. The premise that apes are mistreated and subjugated by humans and then liberated by an intelligent simian savior was an inspired explanation as to how apes came to dominate the world. The fight sequences between the apes and the police riot squads were very thrilling and effective. Roddy McDowall as Caesar is very convincing, sympathetic and his performance makes Caesar a distinctly different character than Cornelius. Ricardo Montalban as Armando the kind circus owner and Hari Rhodes as McDonald are also excellent as Caesar’s allies.

It will interesting to see if the new film, which star James Franco, can take advantage of the special effects technology and improve upon the source material to provide a modern-day science fiction classic. It seems very promising in that the previews have shown how Caesar was genetically engineered to become intelligent. That’s a plot point that removes any referenes to his time-traveling parents from the original series. At the very least it should make audiences forget the misbegotten film by Tim Burton that came out in 2001. It’s too bad that Burton’s film helped kill any enthusiasm for futher films given how low-key the marketing has been for the new film. Though it’s making its mark now, it pales to the omnipresent marketing push that the 2001 film had. Hopefully if the film delivers, word of mouth may recreate the Ape phenomenon.

Stay tuned

Dr. Botanist