(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?
(On Cable TV, July 2015) Nobody expected much from the reboot of the Planet of the Apes series, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes ended up being a surprise success, taking seriously one of the campiest premise in cinema history and turning it into something both worthwhile and surprisingly affecting. This sequel, surprisingly or not, improves upon its predecessor. Plot-wise, this is a far busier film: Years after the deadly pandemic triggered in the first film, the apes have clustered north of San Francisco, living more or less unaware of the group of humans that have congregated in the city. But when the human, fearing energy shortages, start poking around north to take advantage of an unused hydroelectric dam, the gears of war are set in motion. Much of the film is spent is squirming regret, as the two groups move closer to all-out violence. Of the human cast, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russel have the best roles, but the real focus here are the apes and how they are portrayed. The stunning special effects of the original (good enough to make us forget that practically no real animals were used in the making of the film, just digital effects) are used even more effectively here. Director Matt Reeves does well with the good material he’s given, to the point that a scene that impossible to describe soberly (an ape riding a horse, firing an assault rifle in each hand!) ends up not ridiculous, but terrifying. Defying the odds for a second straight film, this Planet of the Apes reboot series is looking like a better and better idea.
(On DVD, March 2011) Like most people who enjoyed the Swedish horror film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In), I really wasn’t looking forward to its American remake: why trifle with such a recent and solid film? But as (re)writer/director Matt Reeves shows, it’s possible for big-budget American films to understand what works in their source material and make sure that the same quality is preserved in the remake. Purists will be happy to note that few of the essentials have been changed in Let Me In: The story beats are similar and the imagery is familiar. The adaptation is more accessible to American audiences, but not necessarily blunter or more exploitative. From time to time, the remake even improves on a few sequences: The remake’s highlight is a spectacular in-car shot leading to a crash, Reeves finds comfort in yellow sodium-vapour streetlamps and both young actors are very good in the lead roles. In fact, the only thing I really miss from the original is the finale’s haunting underwater one-shot, here replaced by a far less effective series of more conventional cuts. Taken on its own, Let Me In remains a good horror film, effective in part because it differs from genre conventions and doesn’t bow to expectations. The relationship between hero and vampire is disturbing in its own right, while the coda suggests that the pair’s future reflects another pair earlier in the film. While this remake was still largely unnecessary, it’s good to see Reeves succeed at another genre-horror outing after the spectacular Cloverfield: he did the best anyone could be expected to do with a difficult project.