It’s a series we didn’t realize we wanted, and don’t honestly need, but it’s so, so good. Who would’ve thought, honestly, that an origin Planet of the Apes story would be a good series of films? But director Matt Reeves is taking the monkey genre to a whole new level of filmmaking, and you won’t agree with my review until you actually see it.
The most significant concept I need to commend the film on delivering upon was the overall culture of the ape society. It wasn’t just a hideout for them or a home, but a fully fleshed out lifestyle that merged family values, schooling, hunting and sign language with realistic simian tendencies. No longer your typical apes, but infused with a higher level of intelligence, they are capable of so much more. And it’s because they are capable of so much more that you draw so close to them. It becomes so realistic that you become attached to certain apes extremely within minutes.
Several of the apes from the first film (Caesar, Koba, and Maurice) return, while introducing us to many more, including Caesar’s wife and two sons, one of which is called Blue Eyes. Over a decade has passed at this point, narratively, so it makes sense for the level of adaption the apes have achieved to seem realistic. One such adaption is that they can basically all speak with human speech now, although they tend to physically sign to one another the majority of the time, seeing as how vocal speech seems forced and difficult for them. But I found that when the apes did choose to speak out loud it was done powerfully.
At this point in the series, the humans have almost died off from the simian flu that spread throughout the world due to a company’s doing research on chimps in the first film to cure Alzheimer’s. That being said, the humans don’t come in until nearly 20 minutes in. The film up to this point almost felt like you were viewing an extreme version of something you’d probably see on Animal Planet. Unfortunately, when the humans come into the picture, it all goes downhill for the apes from there on. It’s so strange because you end up hating the humans (almost) as a whole, but rooting for the apes (for the most part). If the film lacks in any way, I think the character development on the human side was a bit black and white in comparison to the apes.
Never have I seen better use of motion capture in a film thus far. Andy Serkis certainly stole the show, but so too many of the other actors involved in the motion capture suits. We are still at that level of computer graphics where you can tell whether you’re looking at CGI or not, but with the motion capture done so meticulously on this film, it was the most realistic CGI I can remember seeing. In fact, I’m half convinced they used a real orangutan.
The film tackles an impressive amount of modern day social issues, many of which are seen through the perspectives of the apes – and that as a viewer was truly fantastic. Whether it be how misunderstandings and stupid mistakes insight war, or how peer pressure and fear can be used to lead others against their will, it’s all delivered with oomph. I most appreciated the fact that the apes weren’t all “just and good” like Caesar had been – there are good and bad personalities on either side of a war. Sometimes your true enemy is someone you’re extremely close with – someone on “your side”. But the story proves the point that there really is no victor in warfare. Everyone loses something.
Another thing I just wanted to note was the soundtrack. Did anybody else hear those spooky piano keys that struck in the background that gave it that slight tribal feel when the apes were sneaking around? Well, that was a direct homage to the original Planet of the Apes soundtrack. Just a little thing I thought was pretty sneaky.
There were several heart wrenching moments throughout the film as well. Not entirely sad, but just sad enough that it was too beautiful to divert your eyes, even to blink, lest you miss something… Never thought I’d say I almost teared up watching a Planet of the Apes movie, but yeah. This film grounds those hard SciFi elements from the original movie into a much more realistic dosage. It’s strange of me to say that this is a “missable film,” but despite that, there is no way you’ll regret the time spent watching it. Fantastic story. Fantastic acting. And a great installment in series that’s now 45 years old. I really can’t wait for the next one.