Andy Serkis

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

After the 2011 reboot, War for the Planet of the Apes is the third instalment and the now-blossoming franchise is showcasing some of the finest effects in modern cinema today with Andy Serkis portraying Caesar throughout.

With Matt Reeves returning from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I was a tiny bit apprehensive, as the two-rebooted Planet of the Apes films, Matt Reeves’ was the weaker. Lo and behold, I am a sucker for a good action flick though.

Reeves’ does briefly catch up the viewer with a few choice sentences, reciting Rise, Dawn and War, whilst the mentioned battle-hardened veterans weave through the forest. Having war in the title of the film, I was anticipating some all-out action sequences, and this is what happens immediately. The soldiers that adorn the ‘monkey killer’ helmet quickly light up an outpost, but not before the apes show up and take out the army.

As Caesar has taken on the leader role on this, his status is still key as he walks amongst the apes and they all part almost as though he is a God. And this is where the advanced technology really comes into it’s own as Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is brilliant.

And therein lies one of the greatest things about War for the Planet of the Apes is that the apes take the bulk of the emotion on show within this film. And it is tied in with some beautiful shots, as Lake and Blue Eyes reunite after a long time as the waterfall cascades down behind them.

Personally I think this device was really effective by Reeves’ as it shows the evolution of the apes over the humans. The first encounter between the apes and the humans, Caesar extends a compassionate olive branch in the hope of long-lasting peace, whereas Woody Harrelson’s Colonel is a very two-dimensional as a character. I don’t think that’s necessarily Woody Harrelson’s fault, more a device used by Matt Reeves.

It is now common that blockbusters are starting to use comic effect for one or two of their characters in their films and War for the Planet of the Apes fell victim to this trope. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t work. That was clear emotion elicited by the new ‘bad ape’, but his comic trope kept pulling me out of the picture.

Aside from that, there was very little that caused grief with this film. I was a massive fan of the compassion and humanity that the Apes showed and that being directly contrasted by the humans inability to elicit any emotion. Their ability to communicate and come together for the sake of their race was key, whilst the humans carried on bringing about destruction of their own race.

Although for saying the title of the film is War for the Planet of the Apes. There isn’t a great deal of war sequences within. There is that glorious opening sequences, and the climatic battle, but other than that it seems as though the war is held within Caesar. Especially as he is tipped over the edge in the battle for apekind against humankind, when the Colonel embarks on some pretty shady business with Caesar’s family.

Considering Matt Reeves’ first attempt at the Apes franchise was less-than-memorable, War for the Planet of the Apes is considerably better. Probably better than the first rebooted film, but this will be significantly helped by the portrayal of the apes thanks to the advancements in technology, but also Andy Serkis’ performance. His ability to channel the humanity and compassion from the start and then seeing the hatred completely take over is astounding.

In a summer of blockbuster films, War for the Planets of the Apes is probably in amongst the top for the enjoyment taken out of the action sequences, but also for having that narrative structure to allow for the film to be carried over it’s two hour plus runtime. Maybe with some fine editing and the removal of the comic relief the film maybe could’ve been the best film out of the summer for me, but alas, this has not happened. For now, it’ll be interesting to see whats next in stall for the Apes franchise.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

That moment the Lucasfilm logo appear on the screen I was already beaming from ear to ear. Immediately I was transported to a galaxy far, far away and the nostalgic memories of watching the original trilogy on VHS all those years ago rushed back.

Of course, the moment the release date was edging closer there was a collective effort worldwide to keep everywhere spoiler free and it was fantastic, everyone was simply excited about this film and it was on everyone’s lips. And it has to said it was so worth it. 

When JJ Abrams was attached to the project I had every confidence in him to not repeat the prequels (albeit The Phantom Menace had the best lightsaber duel). I was massively impressed with Abrams and his work in the Star Trek universe and this was the main reason I felt comfortable with him taking charge.

A big criticism I heard of this film after seeing it was the treading of familiar ground, however, upon watching this, I felt it was necessary to launch the new characters of Rey and Finn into the Star Wars universe.

Rey and Finn are at the centre of this film, set thirty years after the events in Return of the Jedi, with Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) as a scavenger on Jakku and Finn (John Boyega) playing a stormtrooper with a conscience. Their stories become intertwined as Finn defects from the First Order (the aftermath of the Empire) and crash lands on Jakku. Over the next two hours or so, they are helped with a mix of new and old characters to take down the latest dark side enforcer, Kylo Ren and the dark side’s latest destruction path.

The casting was absolutely superb as well, with a great but not overpowering mix of new and old characters. Of course Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver – fantastic casting choice in my opinion) were the characters leading the charge, helped with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and of course Han Solo, Chewie and Leia. The teasing of new characters who didn’t have much screen time in this film, like Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) who I thought held their own and intrigued me as not much was revealed about them.

With beautiful landspaces, The Force Awakens explores new territory like Jakku (Rey’s home  planet) and a shady cantina in the depths of Takodana, and not forgetting the Starkiller Base, aptly named as it draws it’s power from the suns of the solar system.

The action sequences throughout the film are excellent as they’re not overpowering to the story, with the right mix of the blaster fights and aerial pursuits. Paced well enough to keep you entertained, topped off by the finale battle that’s always to be expected in Star Wars.

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As I mentioned the story does step on the toes of A New Hope, that being said, JJ Abrams did mix it up with a few twists, some foreseeable, some not. For me, however, this was all washed away when you’re watching these characters and the story unfold on screen. And keeping John Williams on board and in charge of the sound, is always a strong choice with the familiar tune reworked, much like Michael Giacchino did with Jurassic World. 

It’s a fantastic nostalgic trip back to a galaxy far, far away. The treading of old ground makes the story wear thin, but the reworking to make the new characters shine I thought JJ Abrams has done an excellent job. The superb casting and the fantastic landscapes that have been created, this is an absolute beauty to watch on the silver screen.

8/10