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Friday, July 7, 2017


Make no mistake: what we've seen with the latest contributions to the Planet of the Apes franchise is in a word, spectacular. From the special effects to the astonishing performances led by Andy Serkis as the impenetrable ape Caesar are worth the price of admission alone. In this modern, somewhat anarchic sociopolitical era in which words like resistance and self-empowerment are merely a state of being rather than aspirations, there's something deeply comforting and humanistic about a species fiercely protecting their right to exist. So much so that they're willing to fight for it.

Which brings us to WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. We're reached that point in this threequel when the usual tactics of mild but steady aggression and militancy are no match to good ole American warfare, machine weapons, minefields, and torture. And that's just where we're at in this movie. After losing his wife and son, Caesar is compelled to go off into the middle of battle and fight on his own, even if it means sacrificing himself.  But of course, his posse--including Maurice (Karin Konoval)--doesn't let him go out on his own in good conscious. They follow him as he is lured right into the lion's den, so to speak.

Traveling across snowy mountains and dangerous terrain, they confidently combat the elements, until they come across one young girl (Amiah Miller), a mute, who somehow ends up being a part of their crew, even coming to their aid at their most vulnerable.

Now wait, for a franchise that has shepherded the very notion of authority and agency of a marginalized nation, inserting someone, a white girl at that, to be their lucky charm and miraculously circumvent capture of her own is counterproductive with the entire franchise's theme, and utterly unnecessary. Why, as we reach this culminating point in the franchise, is this even a thing? I have to tell you, I was perplexed and even angered by this.

It just seems so arbitrary, and really futile to have a quiet young white girl, a picture of innocence, tag along with this crew that already has their hands full with actual life and death drama. Is it to appeal to larger audiences (I mean, does this franchise really have an audience problem though)? Was the idea of a civil uprising in the midst of war too much for director/co-writer Matt Reeves, who may have been trying to move away from the narrative's racial themes? And so is that why we now have a silly little ape "Bad Ape" (Steve Zahn), for comic relief? I mean, we're in the middle of a major war that could annihilate the apes. Things are dire. Apes are dying left and right. And this is the culminating film in a franchise. We really don't need to have either of these characters, especially as Caesar himself is coming dangerously close to his own fate, and realizing his legacy among his comrades.

Not that Zahn and Miller aren't solid in their roles (this is the best work I've seen from Zahn in years); it's just that there's so much else here in the film that is in fact great. By this point in Caesar's story, we see the community he has led, the camaraderie and friendships he has nurtured and maintained. We see his strength and his vulnerability, effects of fighting endlessly for years, and a realization that he may not win this war but that he has not much else to lose except his surviving son, who he knows will be well taken care of. There's a complex, layered story here that is deeply captivating, but that is peppered with these frivolous add-ons that do nothing for what makes this series so great. And that's problematic.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Woody Harrelson's role in the film as Caesar's arch nemesis The Colonel. In true Harrelson form, he chews up scenery in a way that is both dramatic and hilarious, but he gets the point across. Caesar wants him dead, and therefore we want him dead. And he's just...a bad guy. That's made very clear here. Say what you want, but Harrelson has always been and still is very fun to watch. Does it work here? Eh, file it in the same folder as Zahn's performance. It's as perplexing as it is enjoyable. He makes it work for him.

All in all, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is as heart-wrenching as it is disappointing at times, with still some of the best performances we've seen from non-human characters in a long while. It's meant to be experienced on the big screen, and you're meant to be transported to this astonishing community, and want to fight their fight with them. For that, they succeed on all bases.

Rating: B (**** out of *****)


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Anonymous said...

I was baffled by that little white girl character as well. and I can't see that there was any move away from the racial undertones with the inclusion of the frequent and obvious use of the label "donkey". what finally kept me hung up was the lack of imagination that would assume that the new ape society could only possibly mirror the old white supremacist society. I can only think that of course there is another movie and there is a conglomerate of writers trying to make it work.

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