Tag Archives: andy serkis

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Looks Great, but That’s About It


First Kevin Spacey in “Baby Driver” then Michael Keaton in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and now Woody Harrelson: I keep forgetting how much I love certain actors until they show up on screen.


“War for the Planet of the Apes” is the third film in the reboot/prequel series and follows the final confrontation between the Apes, led by Caesar (Andy Serkis in motion capture), and the humans, led by a merciless Colonel (Harrelson). Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller and Gabriel Chavarria also star as Matt Reeves returns to directs.


I enjoyed the first “Planet of the Apes” reboot, “Rise,” as it was a fresh take on a worn franchise and featured a (to me, at least) always likable James Franco. Its sequel, “Dawn,” was a letdown as it was never as much fun as it should’ve been (an ape riding a horse wielding duel machine guns should be a blast) and despite its clear intentions, fell into standard blockbuster territory instead of an emotional drama. This follow-up is more of the same, as it’s visually striking but narratively weak, resulting in a middle-of-the-road, at times monotonous, experience.


As to be expected, Andy Serkis again shows why he is the king of motion capture as he plays the king of the apes. Every one of Serkis’ squints, lip quivers and growls are depicted on the face of Caesar the ape and there are scenes where you are transcended by it; I’m sure we’ll have to sit through another “give Andy Serkis his Oscar!” campaign this fall.


Woody Harrelson is the best part of the film, however, playing the iron-fisted military leader. Having lost his son to the same disease that wiped out most of humanity, Harrelson is determined to keep humans as the dominant species. He shares two fantastic scenes with Serkis where both men are at the top of their game, and makes you question what really are the traits that separate man from beast?


The film is visually constructed well, too, with Reeves again trying to use as many practical effects and sets as possible. Mostly set in a snowy military base in Northern California, there are plenty of moments of visual awe to behold. In what is basically Ape Auschwitz, Reeves sets up plenty of simple and subtle visual cues to concentration camps that I was impressed by.


However then he feared that the audience would be too stupid to understand a “Schindler’s List” reference, so he takes things one step further to ensure everyone gets that this prison is a bad place and the humans are evil. It’s this refusal to stay subtle that is one of my biggest faults with the film.


If there was a dedication to subtlety here then I would appreciate the film a whole lot more, but Reeves (who also co-wrote the script) doesn’t trust his audience to be able to understand imagery. Instead, he chooses to have Caesar have continuous hallucinations of his former ape rival to show the audience that eventually all apes (and people) fall victim to hate. Visual similarities to a Nazi concentration camp not clear enough? Let’s have the victims start getting whipped to liken things to slavery. And much like “Captain America: Civil War” there’s the overlying message that revenge is bad and won’t bring the people you love people back, no matter how much you try; children’s stuff.


The final conflict is impressive and surely where a lot of the $150 million budget went, but much like “Dawn” it’s just never as much fun as it should be.


“War for the Planet of the Apes” is going to be about as good as you thought “Dawn” was. If Serkis’ motion capture performance and the imagery of apes riding horses through a post-apocalyptic landscape is enough for you then you’ll enjoy it; but if you like films with engaging narratives and emotional payoffs, then this will be yet another disappointment.


Critics Rating: 5/10


‘Dawn of Apes’ a Step Down from First Film

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_Apes            It wouldn’t be shocking if the sequel to the second attempted reboot of a film franchise that started in the 1960’s was not any good. In fact, it may be expected. And while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, the eighth film in the franchise and sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, is not a bad movie, it is a step down from its predecessor.

Featuring an entirely new human cast, and a new director, “Dawn” picks up 10 years after “Rise”, where a virus has wiped out almost all of mankind (or maybe it was eight years. The film never actually picks a timeline and sticks with it). When a group of human survivors, led by Jason Clarke, comes in contact with the apes, led by motion-capture Andy Serkis, it lights a powder keg that may just begin all-out war. Matt Reeves directs.

I enjoyed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” because it wasn’t the Tim Burton mess, seemed to know the line to walk between cheesy and serious, and saved its action scene for an emotional climax. While the set pieces and direction in “Dawn” are an improvement over “Rises”, it seems the filmmakers forgot everything else that made the first film a surprise hit.

As with everything he does, Andy Serkis knocks his performance out of the park as Caesar, leader of the apes. Using motion capture, just like he did with King Kong and Gollum, Serkis’ every facial wrinkle and nostril flare are captured, and the man really does deserve an Oscar nomination for something because he has changed CGI in movies. When Caesar is not on screen, you feel his lack of presence, and when he is there he demands your attention.

The special effects are all outstanding and the creative team deserves all the props in the world. You truly believe that you are watching actual apes run around, and every battle scene features glorious explosions. The set pieces are also top notch; whether it is a barricaded ape village or an abandoned human construction site, you are immersed into the world.

Unfortunately, pretty on the surface is really all “Dawn” has to offer. Right from the opening scene, which featured the apes herding deer (or hunting them? Once again, the movie never explains half of what it introduces), I knew this wasn’t going to be the same as the first Apes movie.

First off, the whole thing seems familiar, and not just because it’s a sequel. Whether it is the surviving group finding sanctuary from “Walking Dead” or the encountering of seemingly hostile enemies from “Dances with Wolves”, we’ve seen everything in this film before.

The second thing the film gets wrong is its action scenes. “Rise” knew to hold its action until the climax, that way there is emotional buildup. “Dawn” forces its action scenes, or scene rather, and by the end of the film it seems like it was all pointless to the plot. (Leave pointless action scenes to Michael Bay, please)

The film wants to seem smart and satirical, with its messages of “war is bad” and “let’s all be friends”, but those are both themes most everyone can already agree on. I’m not paying to see a movie that features talking apes riding horses and shooting guns to get any sort of popular propaganda force fed to me.

Serkis is great, and Reeves’ direction and set pieces look fantastic, but the emotion and action, two of the attractions to a movie like this, fall short. There’s going to be a third film, the ending of this one is all but a trailer for it, and I hope the filmmakers can learn from their mistakes and create a solid trilogy (or however long they plan to milk this for), but as it stands now, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an alright film in a historic franchise.

Critics Rating: 6/10