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.


Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I hold no dear memories to the animated feature length film of Beauty and the Beast. I vaguely remember watching the animated version, but for the life of me could not remember the story at all and why the beast was cursed, so I may as well have approached it as an entirely brand-new film.

Because of the increase in the quality of CGI-films, Disney have started to adapt their much-loved animated films to live-action features. These reboots were really kick-started with the live-action remake of Cinderella. I didn’t catch that one, but I did catch Jon Favreau’s rather impressive The Jungle Book.

Carrying forward with the reimagining of the Disney Princesses, Bill Condon bought Belle’s story into the 21st century but entirely in live action. Having previous footings within musicals, it seemed like a wise choice to have Condon direct. (Whether Chicago and Dreamgirls are any good, I cannot comment)

Questions were asked about Emma Watson and how good she was going to be in the lead role of Belle, but as the film stretches through it’s runtime, I found the performance very mediocre. But it doesn’t stop there for the casting, as the furniture like Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) were found to be very mundane too. The standout performance would have to come from LeFou (Josh Gad) and Gaston (Luke Evans) as they also drove the scenes they featured in with their comedic gestures towards one another and the blatant narcissism.

What was impressive was the incredible set design throughout the film, from the incredibly fancy opening ball room dance before the curse is placed, to the small-village feel of Villeneuve as Belle dances around during her opening number. Condon managed to create a feeling on solitude within the echoey halls of this once-vibrant castle which was impressive.

Condon’s reimagining of Beauty and the Beast doesn’t seem to stray from the path that was laid out in the previous film. He does however, manage to add the spectacle that is enhanced with the advancements in film today, creatively shown by the ‘Be Our Guest’ musical number as the film enters an almost hallucinogenic area with this song and dance.

But between the big extravagant musical numbers and the story that builds the narrative the film eventually checks in at around 130 minutes and for me, this felt far too long. The inclusion of the musical numbers is fine, because it gives this modern-day Beauty and the Beast the ability to hit the nostalgic nerve, but there seems to be plenty of ’empty space’ throughout the film, offering no progressive for narrative nor characters.

For me, there did not seem to be that connection with the characters throughout the story and this could be down to the characters not pulling in great performances. Aside from the occasional laughs through LeFou and Gaston, there wasn’t a great deal of narrative for the characters to sink their teeth into. It’s very much a run-of-the-mill love story, but that can’t be helped as Condon’s reimagining seems to be very truthful to the original feature film.

That being said, there was a sense of enjoyment from the film. But I didn’t leave the cinema spellbound by the remake. Although the CGI effects were incredible and in some instances making the Beast more terrifying that he ought to be, the effects are not backed up by the characters. Everyone is lost in Gaston and LeFou’s shadows whilst they are on-screen, but they seem to drive home their scenes, thus making them more enjoyable characters to watch.

I didn’t go in with any sense of a connection to the original as a child and I’ve left indifferent. It was impressive with the set designs and the incredible scenery of this rural landscaped France. And the mix of comedy and musical worked in areas, but found the music too overpowering for the songs which left me wondering what they were singing half the time. Although it was enjoyable, I still found Favreau’s The Jungle Book to be the benchmark of these live-action remakes thus far.

(that’s until Guy Ritchie has he say with Aladdin)