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This movie is more tightly focused on a small cast of characters than the marketing would indicate.

Without much fanfare or celebration, the new Planet of the Apes movies have quietly become one of the best blockbuster and/or science fiction franchises we have right now. While Rise focused heavily on the issues of our treatment of intelligent animals and the practical ramifications of their personhood, Dawn began both a post-apocalyptic fable of the collision of diametrically opposed civilizations (a First Contact fable) as well as a tight civil rights allegory with two influential apes taking on the roles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, struggling for the soul of the rising Ape nation and how it would deal with the dwindling but still threatening human oppressors (very similar to how Xavier and Magneto intersect in the X-Men comics and movies). The wrestling match between hate and love, vengeance and mercy was a critical piece of Dawn‘s thematic content. Now arrives the closing chapter of the trilogy with War for the Planet of the Apes, a movie that continues parts of the civil rights allegory (and adding some contemporary dimensions) while also adding a broad swing for the mythic, with elements of the movie recalling Biblical stories and the foundation myths of several cultures.

It’s important to note that War is not the gigantic humans vs. apes war movie that the marketing promised, but neither was Dawn. All three movies played up the warrior apes stuff in their marketing. I remember the trailers for Rise heavily relied on the Golden Gate Bridge battle. Dawn had more war scenes and action than War does. But that doesn’t mean that War for the Planet of the Apes is disappointing or somehow not a war movie. It’s both extremely satisfying as well as being a pretty unflinching and bleak war/anti-war movie. The thematic struggles of Dawn are still present, with the specter of Koba (Toby Kebbell) and his vengeful hate haunting both Caesar (Andy Serkis) and the events of this film. But instead of big battle scenes, War emphasizes the personal and there’s a lot of dialogue, most of it the hybrid ape language of vocalizations and sign language. Stopping to appreciate that this is a huge movie where tons of the dialogue isn’t English and most of the characters are CG apes is sort of obligatory at this point, but it’s no less impressive here than before. They keep managing to up the ante and making these characters even more lifelike and believable.

Though it is a pretty bleak and emotional movie (hoo boy), there probably more humor and comic relief here than in the previous two films. The tonal mix is potent and very well handled by Matt Reeves, who has really built magnificently on what Rupert Wyatt and his team began with Rise. This movie is also more gorgeous even than Dawn, with shots that are just jaw-dropping as well as many iconic tableaus with the apes especially. There’s also all the world-building, attention to detail, and believability that we’ve come to expect from this series. What’s perhaps lacking is the scale promised by the trailers, but I think by the time the movie starts to kick into gear, most viewers won’t mind the movie we got, even if it comes at the cost of the (potentially more shallow) movie we seemed to be getting. Read the rest of this entry »

It was difficult to choose an opening image, but this one is what I think best encapsulates this movie for me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the latest in the long list of Hollywood sequels/prequels/remakes/reimaginings that no one but the money people (and a few inspired filmmakers apparently) asked for. It’s a movie that I, for one, didn’t expect to be much better than Tim Burton’s abortive 2001 remake of the original 1968 movie. However, I am here to tell you that Rise is the perfect blend of crowd-pleasing tentpole and smarter-than-average science fiction. It stands tall as a counter-example to the empty promise of genre-as-mainstream in Cowboys and Aliens and goes proudly shoulder to shoulder with previous years’ August scifi surprises.

The Charlton Heston epic started a long and enduring franchise that went backward and forward to tell all kinds of stories set in the universe created by one conceit: sometime in our future, apes will outpace our evolution and replace us as the dominant species. It’s a powerful notion, incorporating several parallel themes about evolution, humanity’s relationship to our nearest genetic cousins, and the hazards of technological progress. I don’t personally hold with stories about the hubris of humankind, stories where science and technology lead us into certain disaster. The subtext of stories like that is always something along the lines of “there are forces we shouldn’t play with” or “humans are not Gods” etc. I think what should stop us from exploring certain types of technology and science falls to our ethical values, which cannot be based on something as vague and inaccessible as religious impulses. The nice thing about Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that it is ends up being largely about that distinction. It’s about what happens when our methods are unethical but our goals are grandiose, noble, and beautiful. Read the rest of this entry »

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