Sunday, July 16, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

3/4

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Thematic Elements and Some Disturbing Images

"War for the Planet of the Apes" is the grimmest movie of the 2017 summer season.  It's tough, bleak and relentless.  For those of you who are PlayStation owners, I was reminded of "The Last of Us."  It's that dark.

After the events in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," relations between the apes and humans are hostile.  Despite offering peace, Caesar (Serkis) is hunted as a war criminal.  But when one of the human leaders, a man only known as the Colonel (Harrelson) murders Caesar's wife and oldest son, he vows revenge.

This isn't a straightforward revenge tale.  It's introspective and complex.  Caesar is continually haunted by Koba (Toby Kebbell), whose hatred caused him to bring things to ruin, in his nightmares.  He knows that by walking down this path he may become just the same ape.  But this isn't as compelling as it could be.  There's so little dialogue that it feels limp as opposed to powerful.  The motion capture work by Serkis and the animators is nothing short of astonishing, but merely having him furrow his brow or stare into the camera doesn't cut it.  More depth is needed for this inner conflict to truly sell.

Every action movie needs a villain, and boy does this movie have one.  Even better, he doesn't have too much screen time.  Woody Harrelson is no stranger to playing twisted characters, but the Colonel may be the most deranged man he's played since "Natural Born Killers."  His actions have a certain logic to them, but his methods are unconscionable; the Colonel has clearly lost his mind, but what's scary about him is that he believes himself to be rational and that his actions are justified.

This movie is very violent.  Had I known less about the corruption in the MPAA, I would have asked how it managed to squeak by with a PG-13 instead of a deserving R.  The war scenes are intense, and there are some scenes of torture that made me wince.  This is not a film for children.

The plot isn't exactly airtight and there are a few glaring instances of stupidity, but my biggest concern is the camerawork by Michael Seresin.  He does his job by creating a cold, grim and oppressive atmosphere, to be sure.  But there are scenes where it is hard to tell what is going on because the lighting makes everything blend together.  There are ways to accomplish both, but Seresin misses the mark.

So, is this final closing chapter worth undertaking?  Without question.  Just keep your eyes peeled and leave the kids at home.

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