War for the Planet of the Apes

I quite liked the first one in this series, didn’t care much for the second and wasn’t interested in seeing this one, but it got such good reviews I ended up there. It’s quite good and, in my mind, lays to rest the question of whether performance-capture actors deserve acting accolades, while it’s also too long and exemplifies a new kind of television-influenced storytelling. There’s your sneak preview! Now let’s go into greater detail.

It’s good. It has a good story and, blessedly, has many more quiet scenes than loud ones. It has a theme, which is communication and gaining or losing language, and a linear story that builds and makes sense [although certain lead characters make some very dumb mistakes], and is moving and has a good, surprising ending. Even the seemingly now-required mute young girl is integrated well and drives the story.

This film gave me a revelation about performance capture [PC], which I [and presumably others] have been having a blockage about. My revelation came actually before the movie, in which it occurred to me that if an actor were in heavy makeup, we would certainly consider them still to be “acting.” PC captures points on their face, and reproduces them on a CGI creature. So in a way, the CGI becomes a form of makeup, still contoured to the lines of the performer’s face, but adding a layer of digital distance between the face and the final product. It is this layer, I think, that most people can’t get past. If we had a character that was there, on set, and whose makeup was enhanced with digital hoo-ha [as in the Pirates of the Caribbean series of crimes against humanity], we would still consider that “acting.” But because in PC, we don’t think of the actor being there, on set, and because their face has been recreated, it is therefore not “acting.”

So I had that conceptual revelation prior to the movie, and the movie convinced me that not only is this quite valid acting, but Andy Serkis deserves to be a household-name actor at least on the level of Ryan Reynolds, if not Brad Pitt. The poor man, for all the recognition he has received, is still woefully undervalued. In this case, he WAS there on the set, and in this case it’s not like his head was put on another person’s body, or an entirely CGI body, he created the entire performance and it was replaced by a CGI ape. If you think of the CGI ape as simply a digitally-removed form of makeup, there is no question that Serkis deserves serious acclaim for this role—he created all of the gestures, line readings and facial expressions—and is due quite a few back payments of respect, too.

That said, this movie exemplifies a certain kind of screen writing that is in vogue and I think highly influenced by the current popularity of “quality” television. That is, we have a character face THE MOST devastating moment before making THE MOST wrenching decision to leave on THE MOST perilous journey against THE MOST daunting odds, where THE MOST shocking revelations will be learned… and on and on. This is the little, difficult-to-define distinction between current “quality” television and, you know, a piece of literature [be it film or writing], and was always that nagging reservation when someone tries to tell me that whatever new TV show is actually “Really Good.” And it is more than in force here, to the degree that there was a point near the end at which I simply gave up on the movie. It had just overloaded me with too many amazing moments, shocking coincidences, incredible stunts, blah blah, that I finally just decided that the movie was bullshit. To it’s credit, however, it won me back again by the end, although you can’t help but notice who delivers the summary poignant line and then abruptly DROPS DEAD, right on cue. It’s a series of highlights without the connecting tissue [or lowlights, and/or pauses for contrast and texture] and it seems pretty good, and I guess it is “good” relative to what else is out, but it is not GOOD in the absolute. In fact—it’s a little bit crap.

So there you go, what is reasonably good and what passes for “good” these days, because it is so much better than most of the garbage that’s out there. That’s the situation.

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