Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

By Rory McArthur (@RoryMeep)

The rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise has always been an outlier in terms of modern blockbusters. Ghostbusters, Power Rangers, Ghost in the Shell; all recent attempts to revive classic properties, and all, for better or for worse, critical and commercial failures. By all rights, POTA should have followed the same path, but instead it forged its own. Revelling in a slightly less bombastic approach to the summer blockbuster, each movie has genuine heart and soul in abundance, and the concluding chapter of the trilogy is no different. Set around 2 years after the events of Dawn, War sees Caesar and his apes locked in a battle for survival against a rogue band of soldiers, led by Woody Harrelson’s unhinged Colonel. Part revenge tale, part dystopian sci-fi, part biblical epic, War truly is a marvel.

Right from the opening battle scene, you know you’re in for a different sort of ride than before. Set deep inside a forest, the tension is palpable as a group of human soldiers branded ‘monkey killer’ and ‘endangered species’ stalk an ape stronghold. Vietnam comparisons are unavoidable as characters desperately drag themselves through the mud and dirt, making for a visceral and immediately enthralling introduction to this final chapter.

But the battles are not the focus of the film, not by any stretch. Soon enough, Caesar and his closest companions break off from the larger group of apes and set off themselves, trading the wild forests of the film’s opening for a cold, isolated environment up in the mountains. It is here they encounter the mute child, Nova, played wonderfully by Amiah Miller, and Steve Zahn’s Bad-Ape. Both are welcome additions to the cast, but it is Nova in particular who shines. She shares more than a few hard-hitting moments with our ape protagonists, reminding us that this war is a complex beast, where both sides are painted in various shades of grey. Such moments are where the film truly shines, overshadowing the later action scenes with ease.

A much bleaker movie than its predecessors, we see darker shades of our characters than ever before. Caesar, by his own admission, is becoming more and more like Koba, the hate filled ape who began the conflict with humans in earnest in Dawn. As his own hate begins to take hold, he is forced to grapple with not only the threat the humans pose, but with how his actions have brought those he loves into danger. And it makes for incredibly compelling viewing. This is, in no small part, due to another stellar performance from Andy Serkis. His motion capture imbues his characters struggle with so much emotional nuance, that the image of a CG chimpanzee totally melts away, and we’re simply left with an incredible actor, giving an incredible performance, inhabiting an incredible character.

As such, the humans are also forced to take on a new level of darkness. Harrelson’s Colonel represents the first time the human lead in the series has been the out-and-out antagonist, but his character is much more complex than that of a ‘villain’. In the mould of Koba before him, you understand the Colonel’s motivations. Like Caesar, he is simply fighting to survive, and in his own head, his crueller actions are totally justified in the name of saving his species. By the time his arc draws to a close, you can’t help but feel some sympathy for the guy, and at the start of the film, that’s the last thing you would have expected.

Unfortunately, where the film falls down slightly is with its climax. The trailers and marketing teased a big, final confrontation between the apes and the humans, and this just doesn’t materialise. It didn’t necessarily have to, but the third act action scenes we get in its place do seem, at times, a little anti-climactic and overly reliant on coincidence. Without spoiling anything, the apes are, in a way, reduced to secondary players in their own struggle, and although the thematic resonance is there, and its makes for some potential social commentary, many will undoubtedly feel like another route could have been taken plot wise.

Flawed but ultimately satisfying, this finale is as emotionally resonant and satisfying as we all hoped it would be. While not quite reaching the heights of Dawn, War still stands on its own as a fantastically brutal epic of biblical proportions. The titular war has become more complex than ever, and while we stay rooting for the apes, the overall horrors of conflict remain the main takeaway from the action. And it is this level of complexity that makes these films great. Sure they have CGI apes punching each other, and large-scale action set pieces and all that jazz, but ultimately they’re films about what it means to be human, and the way Matt Reeves has chosen to explore that theme is a true wonder to behold.

8/10


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TV REVIEW: True Detective – Season 1 

In news that’ll shock no one, life is complicated and as much as we all want it to be simple and stress free, events arise that put us through emotional turmoil and change us in both positive and negative ways. AMC’s Breaking Bad captured this to an extent though not many of us can say we’ve been diagnosed with cancer which led us to become a meth kingpin. That’s where True Detective comes in.

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True Detective is a HBO crime drama series, something that the network is pretty much the king of after success with The Wire and The Sopranos which are arguably two of the best shows ever made. The show’s engineered as an anthology meaning that each season has its own separate story which has helped shows like American Horror Story to tell a complete story and bring new concepts to keep it fresh. Season 1 of True Detective follows Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) , a pair of Louisiana homicide detectives who are investigating the murder of a young prostitute that spans over a 17 year period which leads to the show flipping between 1995 and 2012.

It’s been reiterated by a lot that have watched this show but it has to be said that the show focuses on more than just the crime at hand, dealing with the personal lives of both detectives that takes up a large chunk of time while the murder gradually becomes of more importance as the show goes on which gives it a good momentum. At no point did I feel bored or like I was losing interest, it was a continuous of urge of finding out what was going to happen next in the case or how the characters were going to handle their situation.

First things first, it would be impossible and near enough a crime to not mention the wonderful performances by McConaughey and Harrelson. At first glance Rust Cohle is a perfectionist, analysing every detail of a crime in a ledger that leads to him being called the taxman by his fellow detectives. However as the show progresses, you realise the layers of complexity to this character. McConaughey was originally chosen to play the role of Martin Hart but thankfully he managed to put up a great argument which lead to him playing Cohle and thank god that happened. Cohle is a lone man, an introvert of sort who has a troubled past that is slowly revealed to the viewers which I won’t spoil for obvious reasons but once you find out, you’ll not be surprised why he acts the way he does.

His realistic attitude results in a strained friendship with Harrelson’s character, a family man who just wants his family to be happy and, while not completely happy with his life, is content with the repetitiveness of it. This chemistry between the two characters never dies down and is vaguely reminiscent of the one seen between Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Jesse Pinkman and both shows greatest moments come from the scenes where both characters are on screen, usually at one anothers throats.

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The difficulties we face in life, like I said in the intro, define and change who we are and it’s something that bares some truth in True Detective. Themes of adultery, murder and death are just a few that are touched upon and unlike other shows that might just point out “this is bad”, the themes play out over the 8 episodes of the show and always feel omnipresent, never in your face but there nonetheless. These themes work well because of the cast of characters presented to us like the aforementioned Rust and Martin but there’s other characters that regardless of how much screen time they have still make an impact on you. Whether or not you’ve experienced anything that is touched upon, the show handles them in such a way that you understand both sides and can come to your own conclusion.

It may come as a relief to some that True Detective not all talking about feelings or searching for clues. It’s not an action heavy show but whenever anything like that happened, you savoured every second such as the ending to episode 4. Without spoiling anything, Rust has to return a favour to a biker gang to find out more info concerning their case. What we get is a 10+ minute track shot, putting Rust and everyone involved in total danger, even if you have no clue what the hell is going you’ll feel the non stop suspense from the start to the very end. Every action scene is handled and directed perfectly, feeling more like a film than a TV show.

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And that’s what I took away from True Detective. It’s the first TV show I’ve watched that felt like a film, that looked like one and had the same impact to me. There wasn’t a cliffhanger or any loose ends, instead it was a complete story full of some of the best performances on television along with the top notch writing expected from a HBO drama. With Season Two currently airing, there’s no doubt that this show has the potential to be one of the greatest ever made.

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