Friday, July 14, 2017

Hail, Caesar!

What could top the high concept of a planet where apes talk and subjugate humans as their slaves?


War for the Planet of the Apes (2017, Matt Reeves) is a sci-fi big budget vfx ape opera that opens as a road movie about wandering exiles then establishes itself as a The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, David Lean) war camp drama concerning a wall, with prisoner CAESAR (Andy Serkis) up against Woody Harrelson as a mad COL. MCCULLOUGH who comes straight out of Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Coppola).

What I came for is delivered as the film begins. Large scale battle raids and heavy doses of melodrama punctuated with tenderness and empathy as Caesar leads his people and his family towards a peaceful home. The lush sentimental orchestral arrangements take me back to Hollywood's golden age and I'm continuously impressed by how they get to my emotions. And the opening battle scenes are breathtaking and executed with a fluid precision that takes full advantage of unexpected angles and dynamic imagining of relating spaces to each other that looks like something out of a manga or graphic novel.

The tone of War for Planet of the Apes is darker, for instance when Caesar passes through a field of crucified apes. And after that we're into the whole Ape-pocalypse now territory and much has been done to craft a believable world where this is the apocalypse. The themes of self-sacrifice are intact but it's never clean and easy for Caesar. And although sometimes the screenplay might exceed the limits of good taste with its archetypes--like McCullough sacrificing his only son so humans could survive--the second half of War for the Planet of the Apes is far from stale, to say nothing of how moved I was by its ending.

So my watery eyes were no match for Michael Giacchino's score at the end when MAURICE is talking about Caesar's legacy. Holy shit. I couldn't find out what the piece was called but I swear it's "Past Their Primates," a track from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, Reeves).

Except there's one last thing. I guess this is weird to end on but oh well, the scene where the ape POW keeps throwing his own shit at that human guard got me laughing hard. Well done.

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