(On Cable TV, April 2018) Nobody expected the 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes reboot to be worth anything after the increasingly campy tone of the first series or the dumb 2001 remake. So it’s a surprise to conclude, after watching War for the Planet of the Apes, that the new trilogy has managed to exceed all expectations to deliver one of the finest, most sustained film series of the decade so far. After nailing a surprisingly realistic tone for the first film in the series, the two others managed to head in the same direction. It helps a lot that the series has been a high-water mark for CGI character creation: Entirely digital “Caesar” is a memorable character with numerous emotional moments and the film is nearly flawless in how it portrays him on-screen. The trilogy tells how humans cede the planet to apes and this third instalment describes the final battle of the changeover, with enough perfidious humans to make us feel better about the succession. (If there’s a theme to this decade’s finest Science-Fiction, it’s that from robots to apes, humanity is ready to accept that we may be supplanted by something more human than itself.) Writer/director Matt Reeves leads the film with a sure hand, adding depth and sentiment to what could have been a noisy spectacle. War for the Planet of the Apes wraps up the trilogy in a way that almost makes us feel not asking for one more for fear of tainting the impact of the three films so far. Who could have expected that only a few years ago?
(In theaters, August 2011) Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much from Rise of the Planet of the Apes: I have no particular affinity for apes, would have left the Planet of the Apes series left for dead, and wasn’t overly impressed by the film’s trailer. But there’s no substitute for watching the movie, and the story’s slow, emotional build is ill-suited to be presented in a two-minute trailer. The best way to appreciate Rise of the Planet of the Apes is to ignore that it’s meant to be part of a larger story –not only will you avoid knowing the end of the story in advance, but you will also appreciate the somewhat more dramatically ambitious aims of this new film. There’s an easy answer to anyone wondering why the film needed to exist: the advances in computer graphics have enabled some amazing acting to be captured digitally and re-rendered as completely convincing simian creatures. No more men-in-suits: The newly-intelligent apes of this film are not only undistinguishable from the real thing, but have impeccably-controlled dramatic performances. Andy Serkis, in the lead performance as “Caesar”, steals the show from a sympathetic James Franco. Quite a number of sequences are not only wordless, but take place entirely between computer-generated creatures. The fact that most people won’t notice either particularity is testament to Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ success. Also worth mentioning is the good use of the San Francisco location, and the way the progressive dramatic build-up engrosses the audience. It’s hardly a perfect film (the end climax on the Golden Gate bridge seems almost too implausibly contrived to be credible, the theme is a bit too obviously “humans are scum” and the SF elements are conventional enough to appear as quasi-mainstream now) but it’s a great deal better than anyone would have expected ten years after the underwhelming Tim Burton remake. It’s been a while since special effects alone dictated a should-see movie, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes earns that accolade by using the technology to do something emotionally gripping.