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War For The Planet

Of The Apes • Dunkirk

July 20, 2017

War For The Planet

Of The Apes (** ½) PG-13

To paraphrase a line of dialogue from the nearly fifty-year old initial entry in the series,

those ‘damn dirty apes’ are back. War for the Planet of the Apes, in case you aren’t in the know or have forgotten, is the third and supposed final entry in a prequel series that began six years with Ape’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and was followed three years later with the critically lauded entry Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The middle chapter, Dawn, was a film that earned most of the acclaim that it was awarded. Matt Reeves, the director behind such well received genre fare as Let Me In and Cloverfield, injected a much needed intelligence and humanity into the proceedings. That’s a rarity in the current movie studio climate for anyone who hasn’t been keeping score.

Dawn of the Planet of Apes dealt with the main ape character, Caesar, being at odds with rival primate, Koba. Koba, it seems, harbored ill will towards humans due to his being the subject of botched experiments. Koba and Caesar squared off in the finale as a virus simultaneously wiped out most of humanity, which paved the way for the current film.

As War begins, Caesar (Andy Serkis, amazing as ever in another terrific motion capture performance), just wants to live and let live with his family in the forest as the remaining humans deal with the aftereffects of the virus unleashed at the end of the previous entry.

Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes

The apes get a chance to make a new start in a new land but Caesar must first contend with a mad colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is responsible for personal losses that Caesar has endured. If you’re thinking that having a character hunt down a mad colonel might be an allusion to Apocalypse Now then you’re on the right track.

Eventually, Caesar is imprisoned with other primates whom the colonel has enslaved as a make shift work force which he intends to put to use in the building of a border wall. This element comes across as a bit forced. Still, credit must be given to Reeves for attempting to keep things relevant in the President Trump world in which we live.

The final act of the film involves an attempt to free Caesar and his comrades from their prison and this is where the film stumbles. The pacing of the film slows to a crawl at this point and hurts the film as a whole. Thankfully, things are wrapped up in a way that feels satisfying.

The biggest problem, much as it was an issue the last time around, is the overstuffed running time. Shorn of about half an hour, War for the Planet of the Apes could have really ranked higher for me if the last section didn’t feel like such an endurance test. There’s still much to embrace but it’s a shame that it’s a definite step down from the last trip to apes territory as opposed to a step up in terms of quality.

Dunkirk (** ½) PG-13

It’s usually a good barometer as to how emotionally invested I am in a film when I repeatedly have to remind myself not to let my mind drift and to focus on what’s at hand. I mention that due to the fact that I can’t recall the amount of times I had to refocus my attention during the recent screening of filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated WWII film Dunkirk. I lost count somewhere during the second half hour when I slowly started to realize that this wasn’t going to be the kind of cinematic event where character arc or character motivation is at the center. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’re best advised to stay at home and rewatch Saving Private Ryan, a celebrated film about WWII that certainly had some issues in the narrative department but compensated with its human element. That’s something that’s not on display in Dunkirk.

The best analogy that comes to mind in describing Dunkirk would be that it’s the movie equivalent to a nice shiny Cadillac with no engine.

Tom Hardy in Dunkirk

It looks great and all the technical details contained therein are impeccably rendered, courtesy of writer/director Christopher Nolan’s knack for that sort of thing. The problem is that the characters in Dunkirk are indistinguishable and mainly used in service of the film’s recreation of the WWII era instead of the other way around. If there were one character I was emotionally invested in perhaps I wouldn’t have had to constantly remind myself to pay dynamic, vigorous attention. As a result the experience of seeing the film proved to be a tiring one in more ways than one.

The action takes place in May 1940 when French and British soldiers found themselves stuck in the port of the film’s title. Prime Minister Winston Churchill decreed that a rescue be staged and that forms the chunk of narrative that exists in the film. There are, of course, battle scenes in the interim, all very well staged as previously mentioned, but the rescue attempt takes precedence here.

It’s worth noting that the film’s structure is of a non-linear fashion. Nolan has made a career out of doing that sort of thing and generally it has worked out well for him. Here it feels forced and doesn’t serve any real purpose other than for Nolan to show that he’s in control and, cinematic rules be damned, he’s going to do things his way. The film cuts back and forth between several ongoing story threads featuring an impressive roster of talent that includes Tom Hardy (performing with a mask on throughout the film much as he did in the final installment of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy), Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Harry Styles of the boy band, One Direction.

Credit must be given for Nolan’s ability to wrap things up shy of the two-hour mark for the first time in a while and, of course, the spot on recreation of the period. If only he’d spent half as much time crafting some characters we could care about. 

Both movies are playing at the AMC in Hickory.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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