Monday, 7 August 2017

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES : Tuesday 1st August 2017.

'WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES' which I saw last week has a long history on both the big and small screen as various derivatives of the 'Planet of the Apes' saga, but this last reboot of which this marks the third and supposedly final instalment has received widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. The original reintroduction to the franchise came in 2011 with 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' and was Directed by Rupert Wyatt for US$93M and grossed US$482M and starred James Franco, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, David Oyelowo and Andy Serkis as Caesar, the first intelligent ape. In 2014 its sequel 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' was Directed by Matt Reeves for US$209M and grossed US$711M worldwide and starred Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Keri Russell, and Andy Serkis as Caesar again and Toby Kebbell as Koba, a renegade lieutenant to Caesar. Now in 2017 we have 'War for the Planet of the Apes' Directed once again by Matt Reeves for US$150M and so far since its US release on 14th July has taken US$278M and stars Woody Harrelson as the main human protagonist and Andy Serkis again as Caesar. There are several likenesses with the fifth film in the original franchise series 'Battle for the Planet of the Apes' but this is not intended as a remake of that earlier 1973 film. 'War for the Planet of the Apes' has met with widespread critical acclaim with strong praise for the acting (Andy Serkis for his Mo-Cap performance especially), the storyline, the action scenes, the music score and the overall Direction.

And so to this gripping instalment. Set fifteen years or so after the outbreak of the Simian Flu, that infected and near wiped out the worlds human population and gave rise to ever increasingly intelligent apes, a rogue group of soldiers known as Alpha-Omega are patrolling through the undergrowth of a dense forest. As they progress it is clear that they are on a mission to seek out and destroy an ape colony. In the distance and up an embankment, the soldiers spy several apes keeping guard on horseback. They let loose with crossbow fire taking out three guards on horseback, before letting rip with the might of rocket launchers and automatic machine gun fire on the unsuspecting ape colony hidden amongst the trees. The apes muster themselves and have the higher ground advantage and give back as good as they get, but ultimately there are many casualties on both sides.

In the aftermath of the attack in which the apes gained the upper hand, there are four live soldiers remaining who are being held captive by the apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) arrives, and it is clear from his entry that he is the revered leader of this clan of apes. He orders that the four men be released with a clear message to be delivered to their leader that he did not start the war, and that he wants peace between the apes and the humans. Soon after their release, Caesar's son, Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) and Rocket (Terry Notary) a lieutenant to Caesar and close friend, return from a reconnaissance mission to find suitable safe haven for the apes to relocate to where they can establish themselves away from humankind and live in peace. They report that they have pinpointed a perfect place for them across the desert and with plenty of water.

Later that night after the injured apes have been attended to, a crack team of Alpha-Omega troops led by Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) descend on the apes colony hidden behind a cascading waterfall. Caesar is alerted to their presence and quietly musters support to take them out, but not before the Colonel has killed Caesar's wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer) and his son, Blue Eyes. Caesar is distraught and the rage builds up inside him, wanting to exact his revenge on the humans for killing his family after he extended the hand of peace.

The next day, Caesar departs to seek out his revenge on the Colonel. He leaves his youngest son, Cornelius (Devyn Dalton) in the care of Blue Eye's mate, Lake (Sara Canning), and has every intention of going it alone while the clan make for their safe haven beyond the desert. However, Maurice (Karin Konoval) a wise and trusted Bornean oragutan, Rocket and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) decide to accompany Caesar on his perilous journey, and reluctantly Caesar agrees.

En route they come across what seems to be an abandoned run down lakeside village. They split up and investigate and are greeted by a soldier type, who plays it all innocent before reaching for his gun, only to be shot dead by Caesar. They search through the soldiers hut and come across a young girl (Amiah Miller) cowering in her bed. She cannot speak. Maurice insists they they take her with them, for left alone she will surely die. The two share a connection when Maurice picks up a old rag doll from under the bed and gently hands it to the girl, who accepts it graciously.

In time Caesar, Maurice, Rocket, Luca and the girl make it to the Colonel's camp, but notice that it is being evacuated. Caesar learns from another captive ape that the Colonel has departed for the 'border' where a new Alpha-Omega camp is being established, but none of them know where the border is. They decide to follow behind the outgoing convoy of Alpha-Omega and along the way discover three human soldiers shot and left for dead and buried in the snow. Uncovering the bodies, one remains alive but like the young girl, cannot speak. He soon dies from his wounds. Caesar is left wondering why the Colonel would turn on his own?

Continuing their journey they meet up with another ape in an abandoned resort hotel. Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) can speak, and converses with Caesar that he has been living alone all these years keeping out of harms way, and that he originated from the Sierra Zoo before the Simian Flu pandemic. He learnt to speak human from his captors, who chided him and berated him calling him, Bad Ape! Bad Ape reveals that he knows the whereabouts of the border encampment, and reluctantly agrees to take them there.

Upon arriving at the Alpha-Omega camp Caesar and his party observe that there are hundreds of apes all being held captive. While checking out the facility, Luca is killed protecting Caesar by a patrol soldier, and in his anger and having proceeded alone is captured by Red (Ty Olsson) a lowland Gorilla and former follower of Koba as played by Toby Kebbell in the previous films, who now serves the Colonel against Caesar. In the camp compound Caesar comes to realise that many of the captive apes are from his own clan, including his young son Cornelius, and Lake. He witnesses them being forced into hard manual labour building a high fortified defensive wall and without any food or water.

The Colonel reveals to Caesar that the Simian Flu virus has mutated, causing the human survivors of the original strain to devolve becoming mute and reverting back to a primitive state. Caesar deduces that the Colonel is barricading himself into this heavily fortified remote mountainside hideaway to fend off the remains of the U.S. Army from the North, who want to eradicate him because of his beliefs in killing off any infected humans, including his own son, to stop the spread of the virus. The Colonel firmly believes that he is battling a 'Holy War' for the survival of humankind, before the world becomes an ape planet!

Caesar is tied to a cross at night in the freezing conditions and is then locked up in a solitary cell, and tortured with starvation and hard labour too. Maurice calls the young girl Nova, and she sneaks into the camp under cover of darkness and gives Caesar the rag doll, as well as food and water to revive and sustain him. Rocket allows himself to be captured as a distraction to Nova being found out. The next day when the Colonel inspects Caesar to determine if he still lives, he notices the rag doll in his cell. Asking where it came from, everyone is clueless, so the Colonel takes it with him. Caesar is strengthened by the food and water from Nova, and so hatches a plan with Rocket to effect an escape for all the apes using an underground tunnel that leads out of the camp. Maurice and Bad Ape co-ordinate and execute the escape plan setting free all apes. Caesar goes in search of the Colonel intent on killing him as his final act of revenge.

The camp then comes under attack by the US Army. As Caesar reaches the Colonel he sees that he has fallen victim to the virus that he was so intent on halting himself, and can no longer speak. Caesar pulls a gun to the weakened Colonel's temple, and sees the rag doll on the floor beneath the bed - the source of the virus infection. Caesar rethinks and pulls the gun away laying it to rest on the Colonel's bedside table and turns away. The Colonel picks up the gun, and shoots himself in the head.

As the camp comes under heavy attack from the US Army, Caesar needs to get away and save his own ape clan who while escaping have come under attack from the Alpha-Omega soldiers within the camp. Caesar sees his opportunity to blow up a fuel tanker which results in a cascading explosion that sees the defensive wall of the camp topple over the side of the mountain wiping out just about all of the Alpha-Omega troops, and allowing the US Army to claim a victory. Caesar effects his escape from the fireball mayhem through the tunnel, emerging beyond the perimeter.

As the US Army approach the now decimated Alpha-Omega camp and let out a collective rallying cry, they turn almost in unison to look at Caesar looking at them. Then, with a tremendous roar in the background, they observe a huge avalanche of snow and ice hurtling down on them from high above the mountain caused by the earlier attack commotion. They too are wiped out without a trace leaving Caesar and his clan looking on from the safety of high trees that they were able to escape too to evade the treacherous avalanche. In the aftermath of this, the apes regroup and Caesar leads them to beyond the desert and their safe haven, where the gathered clan rejoice in their new found freedom, the wide open spaces and the land of plenty.

This is a fitting end to the latest and most successful of this franchise reincarnation yet. The CGI and motion capture technology behind the anthropoids is quite stunning, making for a more realistic experience backed up by a smarter, stronger, layered sequel that for the third instalment in a series is unusual in itself. The film serves up raw emotion, gritty action, epic spectacle all underpinned by first rate believable performances, assured Direction and a story you can invest in. At over 140 minutes long however, perhaps just a tad too long, that said, the film moves along at a fast pace and never labours. Talk of a fourth film in this rebooted franchise has already been mooted. Catch it on the big screen while you can - you won't be disappointed.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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