Fight for survival in ‘War of the Planet of the Apes’

Rating 5/5

The film title says much for this film. However, there wasn’t as much “war” in the film as I (and maybe the audience) was led to believe. But of course, the film did not sway from active fight scenes that culminated into an explosive climax, which I think etched one of the most nostalgic, iconic images in film history.

The script, written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, weaves a story of vengeance and redemption set in a world of discourse between apes and humans. Reeves seemingly directs this story flawlessly with emotion about how far an ape (or human) would go to protect his family. The cinematography by Michael Seresin reveals a cold, harsh world that one might feel in a time of war. The locations are carefully selected to propel the story and provide a vivid backdrop for the characters to inhabit. The musical score by Michael Giacchino adds to the live action and internal conflict of the characters, and it enhances even the most tender of moments in the film.

The 1968 original Planet of the Apes (written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling) was based off the novel by Pierre Boulle and depicted a world inhabited by intelligent apes and humans were oppressed and enslaved. That film spawned four sequels. And while they were interesting and exciting to watch at the time, I don’t believe they ever really explained how the apes became the dominant species. This new film series that began with 2001’s Planet of the Apes starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Tim Burton seems to have developed the backstory behind the rise of the apes.

I will more than likely go back and review those films to refresh my memory. So those reviews will come in future posts.

But moving on.

In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released. And the great ape leader was introduced – Caesar (Andy Serkis). It showed how the apes became intelligent and learned how to speak. Three years later, war began to brew in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Now, another three years and Caesar (Serkis) is leading his ape family to a life of peace in the woods. But a formidable enemy known only as the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has decided to take aim on the apes to rid their kind once and for all. After a battle in the woods, Caesar sends a small group of soldiers back to the Colonel with a message of peace if he does not attempt to pursue the apes any longer. The Colonel does not adhere to the message and attacks Caesar’s group, killing his wife and son. He then vows revenge on the Colonel and sends the rest of his group to find a new home. Caesar separates from the others to take his vengeance upon the Colonel. But some of his tribe cannot let him go alone so they follow him and eventually accompany Caesar on his journey.

War of the Planet of the Apes plays like a war film reminiscent of Platoon or Apocalypse Now. In fact, there is a moment in the beginning of the film where soldiers are searching for Caesar’s location and several soldiers are seen with graffiti on their helmets where one reads – “Ape-pocalypse Now.”

With that being said, the film is very much Caesar-centric. Most of the action of the narrative is focused on him where the audience is very much taken on his journey. We see the turmoil, anger, vengeance, and every human emotion Caesar encounters upon his quest for vengeance against the Colonel. Thus, the film is very much an emotional journey for the audience. From beginning to end, I was drawn into the story with every passing moment and character entanglement. At the final moment when the apes reach their new home, there is a moment where we see Caesar’s face and all the ghosts from the past fade away and we see now he knows they are home and there is hope for them in the future. That moment acts as a catharsis for the audience and for Caesar.

There is action and excitement, sentiment, heart, surprises, and humor to ease some of the tension and excitement. It seems to be a complete form of entertainment and has the makings of a summer blockbuster. And after seeing this film, I do want to go back and review the others in this film series as well as the original film series. War of the Planet of the Apes delivers big fun and an emotional journey for the summer.

 

 

 

The female heroin goes to battle in DC’s ‘Wonder Woman’

Rating 2.5/5

With the release Wonder Woman from DC, one might “wonder” what the purpose is. DC seems to be attempting to build a universe but I don’t think they’re at the level Marvel is with their superhero flicks. I liked this film a little more than Dawn of Justice, but that’s not saying much.

Director Patty Jenkins takes the screenplay from Allan Heinberg and turns it into 141 minutes of underdeveloped characters, a seemingly tired story, and a derivative plot. Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs developed the story.

This is the origin of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), who was seen in last year’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I suppose the film did its job by introducing the character and telling her story, but it just didn’t catch my interest that much. That is to say it didn’t hold my sustaining interest through the film that much.

The film seemed to reflect Captain America where a hero is seen out of time. This character is one where I don’t know much about either. The film begins when Diana is a young girl with an urgent need to train and fight like the other women of the island, but her mother won’t let her. But of course, she ultimately begins to train and Diana learns how to handle herself in battle.

Flash forward a few years when Diana is older. The story advances.

Through an unexplained time warp thing, a pilot crashes in the ocean off the shores of Themyscira. Diana saves him. Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) tells the women of this great war in which Diana believes to be influenced by the god Ares. Determined to stop the God of War she returns with Captain Trevor to put an end to Ares’ reign.

Diana tries to fit in. Steve tries to help her. He finds some help to track down some bad guys. Diana and Steve begin to fall in love. He sacrifices himself to help save the world. Diana realizes her true potential and….

I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it yet, but I imagine most of you have. And if you have, then you know what happens.

I suppose the fault I find with this film (and all the DC films I’ve seen) is that it just doesn’t sustain my interest. I mean they do have somewhat interesting stories, but the polished delivery is not there for me. I don’t know what it is about these DC films thus far, but that’s how I’ve viewed all of them. They seem to drag in a lot of places and it really messed with the timing and pacing for me to really enjoy.

For the most part, the acting was average. I don’t believe there was anything special. Gadot portrayed the character with a sense of determination and strong will with just enough of a sense of heroism that came across in the film at times, but most of the time her performance seemed quiet and reserved. Pine was decent enough with his character but it was nothing spectacular. Connie Nielsen plays Queen Hippolyta, Diana’s mother, with the love and protection only a mother can give. Diana’s aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright) trains Diana into the strong, determined woman Diana becomes. Rounding out the good guys (and providing much humor and light heartedness in the film) were Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, and Said Taghmaoui.

The villains seemed to be added on in this story. There were some twists to know the identity of the actual evil arch nemesis, the god Ares. General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and a mad scientist Doctor Maru nicknamed Doctor Poison played by Elena Anaya, didn’t really seem to play much of a role in the film as one might be led to believe. Honestly, I thought if these characters weren’t in the film as much as they were or maybe only mentioned, the film could have cut some time off and still told the story it wanted to tell.

I believe the film set up the story and main plot well enough for the characters and the audience to see, but it was the execution of the second and third acts with its slow-moving plot points and character and story development that was somewhat incongruent. That takes me out of a film every time. Every. Time.

Some might have enjoyed this film. Some might have really loved this film. But again, I couldn’t really get on board with this DC film like the ones before. I wanted to like it more. In fact going in, I thought, “maybe this is the DC film I will enjoy.” But not so much. I want to like these DC films. I want to enjoy them. But I just can’t. Maybe Justice League will be better. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

 

 

Spidey swings into action in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Rating 3.5/5

Ever since the release of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War last year and the introduction of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, fans and movie goers alike couldn’t wait for the new Spider-Man in his first solo outing within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was fun to see the character within this universe and this film appeared to be more fun, vibrant, and comical than Sam Raimi’s take starting in 2002 and Marc Webb’s reboot in 2012.

And another thing about reboots/remakes, I have heard people say that this is the third reboot of Spider-Man. That’s fine to say, but the truth is it isn’t. The character didn’t come to the big screen until Raimi directed the Tobey Maguire picture in 2002. And of course that spawned two sequels. It wasn’t until 2012 when Webb directed The Amazing Spider-Man (what would then be a reboot). It wasn’t a remake because it was a different story than 2002’s Spider-Man. This installment is of course not a remake, and I don’t consider it a reboot. Although, in a way it is because it is rebooting the character within the MCU, but at the same time it holds it own as a stand-alone Spider-Man film.

Okay. Enough of that.

While Raimi seemed to kill his franchise with Spider-Man 3 and Webb doing the same with the 2014 follow-up The Amazing Spider-Man 2, this film appeared to punch some life into the character. This first solo outing did not disappoint. Director Jon Watts brings much more fun and a new take on the character than we’ve seen in the other five films. I’m not sure why it took six writers to put together this film, but what’s done is done. Watts co-wrote the script with Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Either way, the filmmakers brought the character back to the beginning. Peter Parker received his powers when he was only a teenager. This film really brought out the angst of a teenager wanting to do more with his powers, and his impatience and eagerness to help along with his sarcastic quips.

And as I have said before, I am not anywhere near a comic book aficionado, but what I do know is this take on the character seems to be more in line with who the character is. It may be correct to assume this was generally a crowd-pleasing success. There are those that would still probably knit-pick on some details here and there, but I believe most would still appreciate the web-slinger in the vast MCU.

The new Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker) is Tom Holland. He brings a fresh charisma and charm to the youthful, unlikely hero. He is also younger than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield were in their respective outings as the web-head. Additionally, Holland plays a younger Peter Parker than the previous films. His cameo in Captain America: Civil War last year was definitely surprising and seemed to steal the show at that climactic battle.

I will admit this film has a bit of an ambiguous beginning. Or maybe I just missed something. The film takes place within a few months after the events of Civil War, but supposedly begins eight years prior in what was left after Loki released his carnage in New York from 2012’s The Avengers. That timeline doesn’t seem to quite add up but I assume Marvel knows what they’re doing.

I probably won’t go on about plot details here, but just say the story slowly unfolds in the beginning. And I say that because it just moved a little slow for me in a couple of places, but I see that it was for the establishment of plot points and character introduction and development. And overall, the film moved at a decent pace for its length at roughly 133 minutes. I won’t say the performances here were really moving and captivating, but they weren’t bad either. Holland’s performance really stood out though. He looked younger, playing a younger version of Peter Parker than we’ve seen in the other films. Marisa Tomei returns as at Peter’s aunt May where she was first seen in last year’s Civil War. I think she fulfilled the role nicely with the amount of screen time she had. Although, I still somewhat question the casting choice. I mean, again, she was adequate in the role but the look of her character wasn’t what I was expecting. (But that’s okay. I won’t judge). Peter’s love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) was a nice addition. I do know that Peter had romantic interests other than Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy. What added to the humor and various comedic moments was the interaction he had with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). Even the appearances of Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau added to the humor and gave their usual energy and humor to Tony Stark and Happy Hogan. I think the film focused on the inner struggles of Peter coming to terms with his powers and his eagerness in wanting to do more.

I suppose that is why there wasn’t much of a villain in the story as I would have liked. And while Michael Keaton’s acting was not to blame here, and not to say he didn’t have a bad performance as Adrian Toomes, but I was kind of hoping for a little more out of his character. That might be the case as the post-credit scene hints. It is nice to see Keaton making some films again. And to go from playing a superhero in Batman to an actor playing a superhero in Birdman to playing a villain in another superhero movie, is something that I don’t think has been done before. Kudos to Keaton!

This was a fun film and a great addition to the MCU. The cinematography was great and the use of colors and locations added to the film. That is something I’ve noticed comparing Marvel and DC. Marvel uses bright colors and is more fun and vibrant and seems to show off more energy. The DC universe just appears to be more dark and gloomy. But at any rate, I was pleasantly surprised with this solo outing from the web-crawler. Of course, it’s Marvel. I don’t think there has been a Marvel film released that I haven’t enjoyed.

 

 

More secrets uncovered in ‘Jason Bourne’

Rating 3/5

Just when you thought it was over, or at least I did before Jason Bourne was released last year, Bourne is back and Matt Damon returns to play the title role. I mentioned this in my review of The Bourne Ultimatum that this character could seemingly go on forever, much like Bond. Although, I can’t really see anyone else playing Bourne. An attempt was made to continue the action with The Bourne Legacy storyline with Jeremy Renner in a Bourne-like character. That film had its merits but fell just under par from the Bourne trilogy. Jason Bourne had some action and kept the storyline open for another possible appearance by the Robert Ludlum character. But the question remains, should there be another appearance? Paul Greengrass returns to direct Jason Bourne and also co-wrote the script with Christopher Rouse for this installment.

While this film had all the necessary elements that made the original Bourne trilogy so explosively popular (the high-speed car chases, heart pounding fight scenes, imaginative situations) it failed to deliver the intriguing dialogue and character development previously seen in the other films. On most every mark, the film was as good as its predecessors, except for the aforementioned faux pas.

Previously mentioned, there seems to be many directions and storylines future installments could go. But it appears these stories have taken a detour from the source material. What made the original trilogy so special and popular, I believe, are the storylines, the characters, action, the use of camera shots and angles, the dialogue, and of course Damon’s performance. The elements pulled you in and had you fixated on Bourne’s outcome. You wanted to see what happened to him. I know I did.

But after three films with this character (this being the fourth), where do we go from here? The ending did seem to open it up for further adventures. But honestly, I am satisfied on where it is. I was satisfied after The Bourne Ultimatum. I don’t know if there is much more to say about this character and this series that hasn’t been said already. Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. But this film attempted to dive deeper in the Bourne saga and bring up other facets, secrets, and other agents into the mix in an attempt to expand Bourne’s story. Bringing Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, and Vincent Cassel to the cast were nice additions and as with the other films, the characters were unique and interesting.

The film is set up, more or less, to stand on its own. It does well in this endeavor. Bourne is classified as the protagonist of the series, but not necessarily a hero. While there are “bad men” pitted against Bourne, there are not villains in the true story sense. They play as obstacles that our protagonist must maneuver around in order to stay alive and search for his own truth.

Some have said this is a great chapter in this series. That it builds upon what the previous films established. I see it differently. I do agree that is was a fine piece to be included in the franchise, but it fell slightly to its predecessors. I think what missed for me mostly with this film was that I achieved a satisfaction and a complete story with the original trilogy, so this film (while entertaining and interesting) did not do much more for me with Bourne’s story and character.