REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes

16 07 2017

Though its title may lead you to believe otherwise, Matt Reeves’ “War for the Planet of the Apes” shows precious little war. There are extended action sequences, but nothing rises to the level of a full battle. This is not a war movie, at least not in the traditional sense in which audiences are conditioned to perceive one. It’s not about the fights; rather, it’s about what we seek to preserve by fighting them in the first place.

Caesar (once again masterfully brought to life by Andy Serkis) and his band of apes that believe in their right to receive dignified treatment find themselves in an asymmetrical fight with the humans. The original intelligent inhabiters of earth, backed into a corner after the Simian Flu decimates their kind, do not exactly take kindly to sharing their planet with another sentient species. The apes are fighting a war of ideals – for peace, unity and solidarity. The humans are fighting a war of extermination, one where the only measure of victory is the complete degradation and eradication of their opponent.

As a viewer in 2017, I could not help but see parallels between the ape-human conflict and the current war against ISIS. The men who pervert Islam’s tenets can claim a win on their battleground when their actions force the western world to abandon their principles. If we choose to fight as they fight, responding to barbarity with inhumanity, we cede to their strategy and expose our own hollowness.

But as “War for the Planet of the Apes” drew on (and it does so perhaps more than it should), it became clear to me that Reeves had far more on his mind with the film than just the conflict du jour. This entire iteration of the franchise smartly avoids tying itself entirely to the events surrounding its making. Indeed, recent rewatches of 2011’s “Rise” and 2014’s “Dawn” already indicate the series’ malleability to the whims of the present; both films feel as if they refer to something entirely separate from what they did upon release. The “War” of Reeves’ film is not a war but all wars. It’s a rap sheet against human atrocity justified by armed conflict from, one could argue, biblical times to our contemporary ones.

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REVIEW: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

11 07 2014

Dawn of ApesThe dominant attitude that seems to prevail when making sequels is to give people more of the same.  If it functioned well enough the first time to justify a second helping, something had to be working, right?

Matt Reeves’ “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” on the other hand, completely defies the logic.  While Rupert Wyatt’s 2011 series reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” focused on scientific ethics and human progress, its follow-up goes in a completely different direction.  If it weren’t for the astonishing motion-capture apes, the casual onlooker might not even be able to pair the films in the same series.

I must applaud Fox, the studio willing to front the $170 million budget, for allowing a new director to take one of their most vital franchises into uncharted territory.  Reeves uses no marquee names (unless you count Gary Oldman), focuses mainly on the apes, and never caves to a large-scale battle that could level an entire urban area.  That was likely not an immediately confidence-inspiring vision, especially given the tepid commercial reception to Reeves’ 2010 arty horror film “Let Me In.”

But “Dawn” works so well because it does not feel tethered to anyone’s agenda other than that of its creative team.  The film has the ability to explore what the series can be as opposed to how much it can stretch what it already is.  Reeves makes some exciting discoveries with this freedom that further energize what was already a fascinating franchise.  He leaves us excited for whatever sequel may follow, despite leaving no obvious indications of what the next film might entail.

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REVIEW: Let Me In

29 04 2013

It’s rare to see a horror movie made with as much artistry as Matt Reeves’ “Let Me In,” and I think it’s all the more haunting because of that.  The film focuses on developing a hostile environment over cheap screams, a move that pays off in spades over the course of the film.

Believe it or not, the blood-sucking adolescent vampire Abby (the omnipresent Chloe Moretz) is hardly the most menacing villain of the film.  That dubious honor would belong to the bullies, who make life a living hell for the shrimpy but sweet 12-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee of “The Road“) for no other reason than the fact that he’s an easy target.  And they aren’t just name-callers or lunch money-stealers; they want to inflict potentially life-threatening pain.  Maybe they are a little excessive, but after all, movies are a heightened reality!

The ravenous Abby inspires the unassuming Owen to fight back against his tormentors, and indeed he does.  But she also teaches him a thing or two about friendship and love, which seems to innocuously bloom between the two outcasts.  It’s this rose amongst a bed of thorns that gives “Let Me In” such a peculiar warmth and comfort amongst the bluntly portrayed horrors of Abby’s bloodlust.

All the while, there’s a peculiar undercurrent of Ronald Reagan and all that he has come to represent running throughout the film, an interesting setting change by Reeves.  It’s easy to tell he has a real vision for the movie and tender compassion for its characters.  That makes a difference in a horror movie, where everyone seems written only for the purpose of dying.  B+3stars