“War For the Planet of the Apes”

“War For the Planet of the Apes”
Directed by Matt Reeves


“War For the Planet of the Apes” is a film that, in spite of some brutally awful elements, works much better than you’d think. It is exciting, stunning, well-acted and delivers on its premise. And, unlike the first two “Apes” reboots, refers back to the sixties/seventies series of films with subtle, but effective, touches, which deepen our enjoyment of the film instead of distracting.

But no matter how good it is as a watch, and realizing that most of you will neither care nor notice, the score for this film is among the worst I’ve ever heard. Not only is it intrusive and manipulative, it’s just plain bad. Truly, it’s as if director Matt Reeves forgot to take out the scratch-track score he added from a stock soundtrack collection and add the real one. This is all the more shocking to me since Michael Giacchino is a brilliant film composer. Many other blogs have hailed this score as warm and effective based on, I believe, the end credits music, which, granted is a lovely listen. But a score should be judged on its effectiveness within the context of each scene, each character, and the film’s structure. Just a real swing-and-miss.

That said…

Reeves HAS managed to make a thrilling and emotional action flick, almost exclusively with motion capture and green screens! My opinion only, but I believe Reeves has outdone the current Star Wars franchise in that regard. Granted, Star Wars must also invent and convince us of alien environments, which it does. But Star Wars never quite gets the bit that connects us to the new characters emotionally. “Apes”, on the other hand, has managed to anthropomorphize to an unheard of degree. Using mostly sounds and eye movement, the investment in the outcome comes fast and feels real. Yes, there are subtitles for most of the ape communications, but they seem only to guide plot. The mo-cap actors and fx techs do the heavy lifting…and it’s a wonder. You FEEL with these characters. Andy Serkis (Caesar) – who I wish would be allowed just a LITTLE bit more emotional range, Ty Olsson (Donkey), and especially Karin Konoval, who is simply incredible as Maurice, make this thing go! While I don’t believe it will, this is the film that might FINALLY bring Award nods to voice/mo-cap actors. And thank god for Steve Zahn, as Bad Ape, for bringing some comic relief (in addition to great emotional range), which is desperately needed, since the film, in every other way, is a dead serious treatise on the enslavement/destruction of a group that ideologically threatens another. Oh, the “humans” are pretty good, too. Woody Harrelson manages to bring all sorts of humanity to a character who is regularly presented as inhumane. As a result, the depths of hate he feels becomes more real, more effective. Finally, Amiah Miller, with her innocence, trust and giant blue eyes, is a wonderful bridge between the two worlds.

The script works, mostly. There were no lulls that I could notice, and suspension of disbelief is an easy task. It never felt long to me, and the act structure, dictated by genre, sticks to its plan like glue. But, mostly, I was impressed with the ways Reeves hearkened back to the originals. It would be a crime to give anything away, but I can say Reeves re-imaginings of characters from the original, plot points from 1969’s “Escape” and, most impressively, decisions from 1970’s “Beneath”, are creative, focused and of-service to the franchise.

“War For the Planet of the Apes” is a great watch, has a great message, and is filled with terrific performances. Well worth your time investment…just try and forgive that score. Oy.

(as ever, the trailer gives away more than I would want, just a heads up)

Written on 7/24/2017

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