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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 »

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This image is a nice commentary on the movie itself.

Ant-Man has arrived in the echo of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, offering itself up as a sort of palette-cleanser removed from the world-ending stakes we’re used to. In that sense, the movie works fairly well in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy did. It’s a nice change of pace from the bustle of the MCU and its growing cast of recognizable characters. But it’s not a change of pace from the usual Marvel formula. If you’re the type of person who is bothered by that, you’ll probably be more sour on Ant-Man than it deserves. Not that the movie doesn’t deserve criticism, because it does. Unfortunately, that criticism has to be tempered with an awareness of its more-troubled-than-usual production. It would have been nice if they’d managed to put together and release a movie where the scars and stitches of Marvel’s falling out with Edgar Wright weren’t so obvious. Unfortunately, they failed and you really do notice the better movie lurking beneath the altogether solid in spite of itself surface of this one. I won’t waste much time on shoulda-coulda-woulda stuff, but I will be talking about the satellite choices for plot, character, and motive that are often baffling if not outright bad. A glaring example is the movie’s treatment of Hope van Dyne, the main female character. Expect think-pieces about her, as this movie bungles her story that fucking badly.

I still love the Marvel movies and I liked Ant-Man just fine, though many of my comments may suggest I didn’t. It’s a very enjoyable, fun movie, and that’s to be expected at this point. Marvel doesn’t really deserve extra kudos for doing the expected. Their movies have to be more than just inoffensive for someone like me to not spend a few thousand words on whatever went wrong. That said, not a lot went wrong here and that’s why so much of what’s being said about this movie boils down to “it’s solid!” However, there’s this failure to commit that haunts the emotional beats and character development. This problem makes the first half of the movie feel restrained, like you’re waiting to get to the “good stuff”. The good news is that the “good stuff” does come along eventually. The third act in Ant-Man is among the best Marvel has done. With a couple of minor exceptions, it’s got everything this movie needed to have all the way through. Of course, the charm, peculiarity, and eccentricity of the third act was probably seen as controverting to the “more grounded” approach it seems they wanted for the movie. This is probably why Wright walked or got fired or whatever really happened. The third act feels like it belongs in the movie he would have made, and I think Marvel made a minor miscalculation in not trusting to that. Maybe they thought that Guardians of the Galaxy was crazy and energetic enough, but more of Ant-Man could have used that verve. Read the rest of this entry »

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