Tender, wordless moments make Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes a classic. For years, my go-to source for everything primate was Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes. Made in 1968, the film co-stars Charlton Heston and a completely unrecognisable Kim Hunter. The latter wore make-up designed by John Chambers, who received a special Oscar.
Perhaps what's been lost was that tactile quality. For example, an actor looking to morph convincingly into a creature spent long hours in the make-up chair. Different substances would be mixed and applied. Because actors now wear funny camera suits with round markers to indicate movement, technology has reduced the art of make-up to ones and zeroes. Indeed, it’s hard if not impossible to compare Schaffner’s 1968 effort with any contemporary reboot. That’s because times were different, and 35mm film was employed. As of this writing, we have digital.
Director Matt Reeves expands upon the Apes mythology by charting the struggle as a war of necessity. Humans are becoming extinct, yet the apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis, Oscar worthy) desire peace. Nevertheless, their hideout in the woods ends up exposed by soldiers packing heavy ordnance. The latter even chalk graffiti on their helmets with such monikers as “Monkey Killer” and “Endangered Species.”
To fully appreciate Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes requires forgetting what went before. His film stands on its bare feet and I enjoyed it enormously. It’s a rallying cry for fans that appreciate narratives built on hard won emotion. Sometimes, what prevents a film from greatness can be such an emotional hurdle. Yet, even though I had a pretty good idea as to where this story might go, there were surprises that kept me fascinated.
Regardless what the story might do, I always look to Andy Serkis for some sanity. He elevated motion capture performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Similar innovations continued on King Kong and the first two Apes pictures. I’d say his method involves habitation. He becomes the character, so the visual effects attain a soulfulness virtually untapped.
Actually, the biggest triumph in War for the Planet of the Apes relates to silent movies. If like me you cannot resist the work of Fritz Lang, Buster Keaton and F.W Murnau then Reeves’ blockbuster holds treasures stentorian. The emphasis, particularly on interactions between characters, allows for some truly inspired touches. For instance, the passing of a single flower echoes the language of pure cinema.
Time for a poem:
Caesar on the war path.
Nothing can stop his wrath.
Family and clan undone by traitor
assessing the damage, mortal crater.
Ape leader tries to be better than his foe.
Yet untimely reminders provoke such woe.
The shadow of Koba still haunts,
lingering as fiery taunts.
A journey far from home
where primates cannot roam.
Camp wall beckons slave.
Even the Donkeys misbehave.
Music seems better in show,
proving a nice fit for logo.
Andy Serkis, the maestro of motion,
allows us to share his devotion.
This franchise not given to weep
as new ideas gently seep.
Many times I laughed and cried.
Token humanity lifts the divide.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox Corporation and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)