Tag Archives: prequel

‘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


‘Hobbit’ Trilogy Ends on Low Note

The_Hobbit_-_The_Battle_of_the_Five_Armies            The Twitter campaign for this movie was #OneLastTime. So it only seems fitting that Peter Jackson, the man who truly doesn’t know how to stop when he’s ahead, took one final shot at ruining his far superior Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Written and directed by the aforementioned Jackson, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the final film of the Hobbit trilogy, the prequel series to the Lord of the Rings. Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo, Ian McKellen plays that lovable wizard Gandolf, and Richard Armitage plays Thorin, the leader of the Dwarves as the trio try and protect their mountain from invading foreign armies.

I’ll say what everyone has said since it was announced that the Hobbit films would be broken up from two films into a trilogy: it does not have the substance to sustain three films. To me, all I heard when Jackson explained it was “cha-ching!” (an additional movie means an additional $900 million). And after “Five Armies” features more of the made up characters, forced side plots and slack narrative that made the first two films so mediocre, it is only confirmed that this trilogy was a cash grab.

It is really hard to review a movie like this. I can’t really knock it for having no real pacing, plot, or character development because it was set up to be a huge epic finale with lots of confrontations. Sure, whatever. But the entire time the orcs were killing dwarves, and elves were fighting orcs, and humans were kind of just running around, all I could think was, “what’s the point of all this?”.

Truly, though, for all the fighting and violence in this film, it is hard to tell who is who, and each of the “five armies” motivations is only mentioned in passing. And then it all comes to an end. A glorious, anticlimactic end. No, but seriously: some of the conflicts just end, and there are some main characters who disappear into the conflict before never being seen again. Got to love Jackson and his inability to have a proper wrap-up, right?

There is also the forced elf-dwarf romance that on top of being a waste of time also features some cringe-inducing lines about love.

It will upset fanboys, but here’s the truth: Peter Jackson is the new George Lucas. He creates this grand trilogy, with interesting characters, fantastic storytelling, and above all, practical effects. Years later, he creates a prequel trilogy with underwritten characters, forced storylines connecting the two trilogies, and worst of all uses an overabundance of CGI. The orcs don’t look so glaringly fake here as they did in the first two films, but still. The original Rings films were made famous for using costumes; the Hobbit trilogy is just like the Star Wars prequels, and it is really hard to defend Jackson.

By the time “Battle of the Five Armies” is wrapping it, it ties into the beginning of “Fellowship of the Ring” before slowly panning onto a map of Middle Earth, clearly a nod by Jackson that it is the end of the Lord of the Rings saga. In “Moneyball”, Billy Beane asks if you would rather die from a shot to the head or five to the chest. The Hobbit trilogy seems like it falls under the latter category, as all it did was make me miss the original trilogy, and be glad that this grueling series has finally come to an end.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Days of Future Past’ Best X-Men Yet

X-Men_Days_of_Future_Past_posterThere was a time when the X-Men franchise was the best in the business. The first film, released in 2000, really was the first big-budget comic book-based film. The sequel, which brilliantly titled “X-Men 2”, was considered better than the first. Then writer/director Bryan Singer left and “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” were released, both being met with mixed reviews, and even some hate from fans. Hope seemed lost. Then a very successful prequel, “X-Men: First Class” came out, and that brings us to today.

In “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, the X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. Bryan Singer returns to the director’s chair, and Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen return as Professor X and Magneto, respectively, among other stars of the original trilogy. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender portray the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto, and Hugh Jackman once again plays Wolverine.

I’ve never been the biggest X-Men fan. I love superhero movies (“Spider-Man 2” and “Iron Man” are among my favorite all-time films), but for whatever reason I have never fallen in love with the X-Men. So I am surprised that I loved “Days of Future Past” as much as I did.

Hugh Jackman is great in most every film he does, so it is no surprise that he once again kills it as Wolverine. He carries the film for the first half, as he is tasked with convincing a depressed Professor X (McAvoy) to help him save the future. He has his sarcastic moments along with his badass ones, but he also has a few scenes of pure emotion, which is rare for such a normally stoic character.

My personal favorite character of the film is Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters. Some people, myself included, were worried when they saw the character design (a punk teen), especially compared to the one that will be featured in the Avengers sequel (yeah, there will be a different Quicksilver in a different movie played by a different actor, it’s confusing). But Singer handles him well, inserting just enough humor into the character so he doesn’t come off as corny, and Peters in fact adds an extra sense of fun to the film.

For the most part, the special effects are top notch, and the action sequences are very well shot. Whether it is mutants fighting robots or mutants fighting mutants, the action is clear and crisp, and doesn’t fall victim to the PG-13 rating. There was one instance, however, where I was actually in shock that the sequence made the final cut. The CGI looked so obviously fake that I actually chuckled; luckily that is just one 10 second segment of the film.

There isn’t much that “Days of Future Past” does wrong. As with most summer blockbusters, it may drag a little towards the middle and of course the time-travel aspect has some holes when you really think about it, but these are minor flaws that do not hold the movie down too much.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” benefits from the return of the old cast and especially the presence of Singer in the director’s chair. Even someone who does not know much about the X-Men (like me) will be entertained, and the movie explains any and all necessary plot points from previous films. “Days of Future Past” is immensely entertaining and at times emotional and thought-provoking, and it is some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year.

Critics Rating: 8/10