Review – Hail Caesar! (“War for the Planet of the Apes”)

This is it! The fantastic conclusion of the CGI Apes saga that earned actor/motion-capture master Andy Serkis, a place in cinema history… and our hearts. From it’s start in 2011, this new reboot/re-imagining took everyone by surprise by its depth, emotion, and one helluva story arc. And it all ends today. (insert tear rolling down cheek).

(*Spoilers ahead*)

To briefly recap, the Simian Flu outbreak rendered all apes intelligent (giving some the power of speech) and Caesar (Serkis) has taken his chief position back as #1 ape leader after being de-throned by fellow crazy ape, Kobe. Unfortunately, in the interim, the humans summoned the military for help in wiping out the primates and their approach was imminent. We skip ahead a few years and the Ape vs Man Civil War has been raging for some time, lead by the truly obsessed and insane Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson).

But years in hiding in the lush forest has proved daunting as the Colonel finally finds Caesar’s secret lair and his huge population of apes. While Cesar plans a mass exodus to the desert and freedom is in the air, disaster strikes! The Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and eldest son and escapes back to his troops, waiting for a second attack. With rage in his heart and revenge on his mind, Cesar (and some close friends) goes after the Colonel, while the rest go to their Promised Land. On the way Caesar & Co. pick up a mute orphaned little 10-year-old girl (Amiah Miller), who is entrusted to the benevolent orangutan, Maurice (Karin Konoval).

Also along the way the gang manage to acquire another taking ape, a rather scatterbrained former zoo inmate called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) for comic relief. Finally reaching the Colonel’s base of operations, Caesar is horrified to see his entire clan imprisoned by the Colonel and forced (like slaves) to build a wall around the encampment. But a wall against whom? Other apes? What’s worse are former Kobe-supportive apes that have aligned themselves with the Colonel and are still against Caesar. Yikes! Sacrificing himself for the greater good, Caesar gives himself up to meet the killer of his family.

The third act is straight outta The Great Escape, as Caesar (on the inside) and his remaining friends (on the outside) plot a mass escape for the entire camp. Meanwhile, Caesar learns the terrible, desperate truth of why McCullough is building the wall, who’s he’s building it against, and the deadly reverse after-effects of the Simian Flu that, if you’re a fan of the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film, you’ll see the delicious call-back coming. The “war”, from this movie’s title, doesn’t really take place overall, except for the brief bookend skirmishes. The title “Judgement for the Planet of the Apes” would have been more accurate.

Still, this positively Shakespearean plot, written by Mark Bomback (Dawn/Apes) and director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, the future Ben Affleck Batman movie), really takes its time (about 20 minutes too long, I’d say) in gearing up to the penultimate conclusion. And if you ever wanted to see a textbook definition of what a deus ex machina is and how it’s applied, there are two glorious examples here for the taking! More of a character study that a slam-bang actioner, the plot moves well, despite the length (2hrs 19min) and has its share of nail-biting moments and heart-breaking scenes. If ever there was a perfect, satisfying conclusion to a trilogy, this is it.

Oh, and those apes? Wow! The CG apes are impossibly amazing in believability. Serkis gives his best performance yet as Caesar who, more articulate than before, speaks with powerful eloquence. Harrelson is no less expressive as the seriously psychotic commander. Fanboys will get a kick from several Easter Eggs to the original 60’s/70’s POTA films and many copycatted scenes from movies like The Outlaw Josey Wales, Bridge On The River Kwai, and Ben-Hur                                

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
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After FOUR successful Ape movies, 20th Century Fox was just plain greedy. In a case of “we shoulda stopped at number 4”, this fifth and final entry into the Apes saga was a waste of film, energy, actors, and time. And it all showed on the screen.

In a screenplay by John and Joyce Corrington, we’re given to believe that the last movie (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), was much like one of Doc Brown’s alternate timeline’s and had skewed an alternate Earth time-line (or did it?). It’s the year 2670, and humans and apes NOW live in harmony and peace with each other. Chimpanzee Caesar (Roddy McDowell) is married to Lisa (Natalie Trundy) and have a son, Cornelius (Bobby Porter). There’s also a really angry war monger gorilla General Aldo (Claude Akins) who’s hell-bent on Caesar’s downfall because of his ape & man peace-loving ideals.

Naturally, the bad guys are the radiation-stricken guys from the last movie, who all hang out in the Forbidden Zone. This is where some unknown war played out and half the planet was scorched. They want revenge against the apes and an all-out war commences. Aldo tries to push Caesar into human genocide as a means of ending the war, but Caesar refuses to see it his way. Enraged, Aldo kills Cornelius and stages a major coup, but Caesar kills Aldo and realizes that apes are just as despicable as humans and doesn’t go through with Aldo’s plans.

Fast-forward 600 years, and we have the great John Huston as The Lawgiver, teaching a bunch of human and ape kids that there is still peace and harmony in the world. A closeup of a statue of Caesar shows a single tear falling from one eye. A nice ending to a dreadful movie.

In-between 1973 and 2001 there were a myriad of offers and scripts bouncing around Hollywood for an Apes movie. The late 80’s had Tom Cruise and Charlie Sheen being offered roles in a possible Return to the Planet of the Apes movie. Peter Jackson pitched his idea about a Renaissance-era Apes tale that Roddy McDowell wanted in on it. In 1993, Oliver Stone and Sam Raimi had their own Return of the Apes, which had a wild cryogenically frozen ape/Biblical theme that involved time travel and, believe it or not, Adam and Eve! It was going to star Arnold Schwarzenegger and have a comedic spin to it (apes playing baseball!), but the studios shot the story down.

James Cameron in 1996 came up with an idea: a “virus that wipes out humanity” meets Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but he decided to go with a movie about a sinking ocean liner instead. There were many others and some with outlandish plots and storylines that, thankfully, didn’t make the cut. Did I say “outlandish”? Well, there’s that whole Tim Burton debacle with HIS Ape movie and, as they say, the rest is history.
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