Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

To be honest, I was going into War for the Planet of the Apes with an idea of what I was in for. Based on what I’ve read, what I’ve seen and heard about the film up to that point, I thought audiences were going into a film where Caesar would be leading his species in an all out assault to preserve their survival against what is left of mankind, yet I was unprepared for what really was in store.

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Image by 20th Century Fox

Essentially, War occurs two years post-Dawn and well distant from the events that transpired in Rise but not totally disconnected. After Caesar suffers an unimaginable loss that rocks him to his core, he takes it on himself to journey across the wintery wilds to find a man called The Colonel and kill him. Caesar is aided by his most trusted simian companions, Maurice, Luca and Rocket and pick up a few stragglers along the way in the peculiar Bad Ape and a mute girl who is later dubbed Nova; this journey to find the Colonel fills Caesar with inner turmoil to hold on to the principles he held so dear to him or embrace the darkness within himself to exact his vengeance, like Koba did. This inner battle within the first super ape is the War that takes center stage in the film.

Matt Reeves, the director and co-writer of the film, impressed me in bringing Caesar grand story to a stirring finish in the fashion that he did. Reeves and Mark Bomback have crafted a story with heavy biblical references to allow their protagonist to shine in the brightest way they could and truly cement his legacy as his story comes full circle.

Essentially, the Planet of the Apes franchise in its entirety is a story about hubris; how living creatures create their own undoing and there is a success in how this story, Caesar’s story, was told. In War, Caesar wrestles with his darkness brought on by immense grief, he suffers like Christ suffers, he led his species to freedom as Moses did, every action he takes in this movie, shapes the course of his future and the future of his apes and this story leaves a profound and thought-provoking experience with audiences and it resonates when they leave the theater.

I especially took pleasure in how the film handled Caesar’s relationship with Nova. Before the two meet, Caesar dives right into his inner demons to the point where he is almost apathetic, remorseless and bloodthirsty but Nova reminds him of the humanity inside him and how that humanity has kept him from becoming Koba; in a way that theme of humanity and hubris tied all of the films together.

Andy Serkis’ performance is once again, high caliber! The CGI visual effects are just a costume but he breathes life into his characters and audiences are taken for an emotional ride with his performance as Caesar. From the moment, Caesar makes his presence known in the picture, everyone becomes invested; Serkis commands the screen as this character and doesn’t let up for an instant!

Woody Harrelson is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the vicious and bloodthirsty Colonel. Steve Zahn is a hoot as Bad Ape, Amiah Miller is terrific as Nova, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Ty Olsson, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, Devyn Dalton, Max Lloyd-Jones, Alessandro Juiliani and Toby Kebbell were all outstanding in the roles they played.

Michael Giacchino’s score, Michael Seresin’s cinematography, James Chinlund’s production design, William Hoy and Stan Salfas’ editing were all very satisfying. The visual effects were as elite as you might see all year.

I went into War for the Planet of the Apes expecting something totally different but I was completely washed away by how emotionally resonating, thought-provoking and creatively assembled this movie was. You won’t be flat out excited by it, but you will be immersed in how Caesar cements his legacy and how his tale comes to a close.

The Planet of the Apes franchise finishes on a very strong note.

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Review: Now You See Me 2

Christopher Nolan’s magic-based thriller The Prestige, taught me that the second act of a magician’s performance is called The Turn, where the artist sets up the trick to lead to something profound and extraordinary. I suppose one could call Now You See Me 2 a turn of sorts, but I prefer to call it a superfluous turn of events.

The Four Horsemen established themselves as the greatest magicians in the world with a feat so ingenious, they made renowned magic buster Thaddeus Bradley a patsy, they robbed their benefactor Arthur Tressler, they made the FBI look like incompetent stooges and they gave their audiences what they deserved. One year later, the horsemen emerge from hiding, only to be lured into a trap set by a man named Walter Mabry, who seeks to utilize the horsemen’s talents as thieves/magicians to steal a piece of technology capable of rendering the privacy of millions upon billions of individuals inert.

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Image by Summit Entertainment

J. Daniel Atlas, Merrick McKinney, Jack Wilder, Lula May and their mentor Dylan Rhodes are drawn into a game where if they lose, they lose everything.

I will be frank: as a fan of the original Now You See Me, I was puzzled as to why a sequel was greenlit because with the way the film ended, there was no need for one but I suppose the producers saw enough material left over from the first to build a presumed trilogy for new director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Ed Solomon. In truth, Now You See Me 2 has plenty of slight of hand and thrills, but it was missing a very key element that made the first film so much fun: magic.

The first film focused emphasized the horsemen as magicians more than Robin Hood figures and allowed them to exercise their craft as showmen; the audience saw their tricks play out before they were broken down in detail by Bradley and reveled in the magic of the misdirect and the shifting perception. The perception certainly shifts in Now You See Me 2 but not in the way you expect.

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Image by Eva Rinaldi, via Wikimedia Commons

In this film, it felt as though the spotlight was on the horsemen’s ability as thieves more than magicians and the tricks and heists they pulled were dissected either before they did it or while they were doing it. Has Jon M. Chu ever heard of the old fable “A magician never reveals his/her secrets?” Apparently not because since the fun from the previous installment was sucked out of this excursion, Now You See Me 2¬†was reduced to a cheap run-of-the-mill heist¬†thriller with a few light laughs, acceptable action, no surprise, just as amateur as a magic show performed by a 6 year-old who can’t keep his rabbit in the hat before he can pull it out. Disappointing to say the least.

Ed Solomon’s screenplay took the best of what Louis Leterrier, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt built on but in the end, failed to measure up. I was satisfied with how they introduced Lizzy Caplan’s character and phased out Isla Fisher’s but Solomon and Pete Chiarelli altered the formula so much, the authenticity from the first film was lost; there was no surprise, not so much of a twist or turn, the writing had a hand in a film that simply lacked any magic left from the first movie.

While I found Now You See Me 2 poorly executed many levels, it was fun watching the cast perform in this movie. Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Daniel Radcliffe, all entertaining and the supporting roles of Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou, Tsai Chin were relatively minor so it is difficult to gauge whether they made any impact at all.

I’m uncertain I can say whether any technical aspect about Now You See Me 2 left a positive impression on me. I found the cinematography of Peter Deming, the editing of Stan Salfas, the costume design of Anna B. Shepard, the production design of Sharon Seymour, very pedestrian. In some scenes, such as when Daniel Atlas controls the rain, there was a lot of visual flare that came off as very cool but, scenes such as those were far and few between.

Three years ago, I didn’t expect much from Now You See Me but the film had razzle-dazzle and I certainly enjoyed watching it. I didn’t expect much from Now You See Me 2, but I was hoping that I would have the same fun I did three years ago. I didn’t because I saw for myself that the magic was lost.