Sunday 10 September 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes by Bomback & Reeves

Last week I posted about the entire sequence of the Planet of the Apes movies, and I described how my favourite of them all — indeed one of my favourite movies of all time — was Rise of the Planet of the Apes by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver.

This is the second sequel to that film, and although it doesn't quite reach the same stratospheric heights as the Jaffa and Silver creation, it is a great movie, and one which really got to me. 

I cared so deeply about the characters in it that at times I felt sick with fear. It is heart rending, lyrical and poetic... It's also a great action flick. 

The script is by Mark Bomback, in collaboration with the director Matt Reeves. They worked together on the previous instalment in the franchise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and that was an excellent picture.

But this is in a completely different league. Together Bomback and Reeves have cooked up an amazingly rich and intelligent adventure, and they've made some quite brilliant decisions.

For one, they have Caesar the chimp (Andy Serkis) and his band of apes team up with a vulnerable young human girl played by Amiah Miller. She is mute, but eventually the apes, some of whom can talk, name her Nova.

Now, Nova is the name of the mute human from the second of the early movies, Beneath the Planet of the Apes back in 1970. So Bomback and Reeves may have some interesting long-term stratagem in mind.

But more importantly, Nova is a tremendous asset to this movie, adding a touching and vulnerable element among the tough band of furry warriors. There is a delicately lovely scene where one of the apes puts a blossom in her hair.

This is a startlingly poetic film, and Reeves shows considerable artistry in his direction. He also makes great use of close ups (especially the kid's face). Altogether the movie has a heartbreaking intensity.

For a large part of its running time, this is essentially a revenge Western, something like The Searchers. 

And Bomback and Reeves have the great intelligence and good taste to make it a Western in the snow which adds immeasurably to the mood of the piece.

Then, at a certain point, the movie changes course and begins to borrow instead from Apocalypse Now (the connection is openly and cheekily acknowledged by a piece of graffiti we are shown which reads "Ape-pocalypse Now"!).

Such a course of action could easily have been utter folly. But Bomback and Reeves are at the top of their game, and they actually come up with something superior to Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

That film had a scene involving a long monologue by Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in which he "explains" his motivation. I put the word in quotes because he basically spews a lot of pretentious hogwash. I've always found it ineffectual and unconvincing.

But here we have the Kurtz figure (played by Woody Harrelson), deliver an equivalent monologue which entirely makes sense, and which has a ferociously ruthless and tragic logic to it.

Thus Bomback and Reeves have improved on Coppola's original. And they do much else besides. This is a beautifully plotted movie which does honour to the art of film storytelling. 

And it achieves genuine profundity when Caesar, recalling the villain of the previous instalment, says "I am like Kobo — he could not escape his hate and I cannot escape mine."

There is so much to praise here that I'm in danger of going on for too long. But just allow me to say a word about the superb music by Michael Giacchino. 

In the last instalment he referenced Ligeti. Here it's Carl Orff. But make no mistake, the real musical genius at work is called Giacchino, and he delivers one of the finest soundtracks in a long time.

In a summer with a surprisingly strong selection of blockbuster movies, this is a standout. Please don't miss it.

(Image credits: A profusion of punchy primate posters at Imp Awards.)

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