Migs’ Top Cinematic Picks: Planet of the Apes Trilogy

Let’s take an in depth look at one of the best trilogies to hit the big screen!

Rise.

Dawn.

War.

Three simple words, but when added to “Planet of the Apes”, you have yourself a trilogy that broke new grounds in storytelling and computer generated characters. I grew up watching Planet of the Apes films. I can remember my dad renting the “ole skool” movies from the library. I loved them. Well, the original and Escape. I don’t dislike Beneath, Conquest, and Battle, but the stories on those films weren’t that great. I even have a small amount of love for the Planet of the Apes that Tim Burton directed. The ape makeup on that one was superb, although I have to say the story was “ehhh”. I can’t be mad though. That movie led to the reboot, which started in 2011.
I saw Rise at a CineBistro in Virginia. I was excited for this film after hearing about the series being rebooted. I wondered where this was going, coming after Burton’s Apes movie. I’m glad the writers decided to take a fresh start. So I end up spending 50 bucks. The movie, plus a steak and a beer will run you that. Was it worth it? Sure! The steak was decent, and I very much enjoyed Rise. A bit of a slow burn, but seeing Caesar’s (the trilogies’ main character) origin and his interaction with the human characters was very interesting.  Will Rodman, played by James Franco, is leading a lab of scientists, tasked to create a cure for Alzheimer’s. They test an experimental drug on apes and chimps, which does lead to increased intelligence in the animals. It also leaves green streaks in their eyes. Caesar’s mother escape from the lab, causes havoc in the building, and security ends up killing her. The director deems the project not worth the trouble, and orders the experiments to stop and the apes to be put down. It’s here that Caesar is discovered, and his eyes have green streaks, even though he was never injected with the drug. Now you know just how special he is, and will become. The lab tech didn’t want to put Caesar down after euthanizing the others, so Franco secretly keeps him and tracks the progression of his intelligence. After 5 years, Caesar knows sign language, can build, draw, and he even questions his existence, wondering if he is a “pet”. That leads to a very profound scene where Caesar chooses to sit in the back seat like a human, instead of climbing in the back of the cab. While keeping and caring for Caesar, Rodman has been giving his sick father, played by John Lithgow, doses of the drug, in hopes to cure him from his ailment. It works at first, but we will later find out that this drug turns into a virus, which is very fatal to humans. Later in the film, Lithgow’s character passes away. Because of a violent encounter with a one of Rodman’s neighbors, Caesar has to be placed into an ape shelter. After time, he realizes that his place is with apes, but they shouldn’t be living inside cages. Caesar breaks out of the shelter, takes the canisters of the drug that Rodman had, and goes back to the shelter to administer the drug to the apes there. In the morning, they all have green streaks in their eyes. Experiments on apes have resumed at the Rodman’s lab, so Caesar leads the apes that escaped from the shelter on a mission to free the apes at the lab. The apes just want to get to the forest, but their rampage through the lab and through San Francisco streets has scared and angered humans, so a confrontation on the Golden Gate Bridge ensues. The surviving apes end up getting to the forest, where Caesar and Rodman have their final encounter, and Rodman learns that Caesar can speak. One simple word spoke volumes…..”Home”. Now let’s rewind just a tad. Remember that neighbor I mentioned? The one that had a violent encounter with Caesar. That same one was infected with the virus, after being sneezed on by one of Rodman’s coworkers, who was accidentally exposed to the drug early in the film. That neighbor, who was a pilot, carries the virus overseas. If you pay attention to the end credits, you can see how fast this virus spreads and turns into a deadly pandemic. Rise was definitely a solid entry, and an excellent start. The build up to the climax worked, and the cgi was on point. It was almost as if they used real animals. The visual effects were worthy of an ovation.

I saw Dawn at a Regal in Maryland, and I’m just going to go ahead and say it….I cried. Now they weren’t flowing tears, but a few ran down my cheeks. The emotions in this second entry! PHEW!!! I was literally blown away. The drama of the story, the highly increased quality of the visual effects, and that ending. Can you tell that I marked out over this movie? I knew it was going to be awesome from the trailer. An ape commanding a tank!! Apes on horses with assault rifles!! Say no more!!! Dawn starts off with tragedy. The virus had turned into a pandemic, killing off a large portion of the human population, in a short period of time. Even though the virus was created in a lab by humans, the apes get the blame for it, and the virus is dubbed “the simian flu”. The human survivors in California, who are immune to the disease, have banded together and are looking for remaining power sources. A small search party, led by Malcolm (played by Jason Clarke) encounters the apes, and are baffled when Caesar speaks. Again, one word….”GO!” So here lies the start of a conflict. Humans will need to pass directly through the apes’ home in order to reach a dam, which will provide power. The apes are leery of humans, especially Koba, who had been experimented on multiple times in Rise. He advises Caesar not to help them, but Caesar knows what desperation can lead to. Caesar doesn’t want a confrontation, but he also wants to show that the apes will stand their ground and protect their home. A harrowing standoff occurs when the apes march to the compound where the people are staying. Malcolm and Dreyfus (played by Gary Oldman) were attempting to keep talks of intelligent monkeys limited to the ones who were with Malcolm in the search party, but everyone sees the apes riding horses, carrying weapons, and hears Caesar speak. That leads to an outbreak of panic amongst the survivors. Malcolm decides he is going to try to reason with Caesar. He knows Caesar is different. Caesar knows Malcolm is not like other humans he has encountered. He tells Malcolm that he reminds him of a “good man”, referring to James Franco’s character from Rise. Caesar and Malcom work out a deal, which angers Koba. Koba says that if humans get the power they need, they will destroy the apes and their home. You can really see a stark difference in Koba and Caesar. Hate grew in Koba because humans treated him poorly, while Caesar’s dealings with humans caused him to be compassionate and sympathetic. Koba plots to kill Caesar then blame it on the humans, in order to start a war. Koba succeeds in injuring Caesar, and leading most of the apes on an assault against the compound where the survivors are. The scene where the apes charge the compound on horseback firing rifles……WOW!!!!!! The cgi was so on point in this movie. Rise had great cgi, but Dawn blew it out the water. The horseback charge has to be one of the dopest cinematic sequences I have watched. Caesar, who Koba thinks is dead, is nursed back to health by Malcolm and his wife. Caesar’s son tells him that Koba has taken humans hostage, and has killed apes who don’t stand with him. In the climax of the film, Caesar confronts Koba. They fight, and Koba is killed. Caesar had a chance to save Koba, but he knew he was consumed by hate, so he doesn’t help Koba. At this point, the human survivors put out a distress signal, which is answered by a surviving military division that was located north of the compound. Malcolm tells Caesar, but Caesar already knows what is coming. “Humans will not forgive ape”. They share a very touching moment (hence my tears), and Caesar tells Malcolm to leave. The surviving apes gather around their rightful leader, as you see the green specks in Caesar’s eyes intensifying. A very harrowing scene, and one hell of an ending. The depth of the story telling really amazed me. It’s hard to pick a side here, because the humans were trying to survive, while the apes just wanted to live. You feel for Gary Oldman’s character and the rest of the people, because they lost everything. At the same time, you don’t want to see the apes die. When fear and hate sets in, you really see how bad things turn for both groups. “They really are just like us”. BRAVO BRAVO!!

I saw War as part of an Apes Triple Feature, on July 12th, 2017. The theater was a newly remodeled AMC, which had been furnished with reclining seats. SCORE!! The triple feature was only $22. DOUBLE SCORE!!! I got a cool commemorative poster and some other movie goodies as well. TRIFECTA!!! Seeing all three films back to back to back was absolutely fantastic. Each movie individually is on point, but when you watch them as a trilogy, it really makes for a great story. I don’t always spend 7 hours in a theater, but when I do, I’m down with Caesar!! War starts off with a bang, and you can deduce some things from the first 3 minutes. Soldiers branded with their company’s symbol tells you a story. Gorillas working with Soldiers to hunt other apes tells you a story. The Soldiers referring to the defected apes as “donkeys” tells you a story. Ready for more? Those “donkeys” were loyalist to Koba, who hated humans. They can’t go back to Caesar, so they chose to help track and destroy any apes following Caesar. The apes have taken great losses since Dawn, and the Soldiers, led by the highly evil Colonel McCullough (played by Woody Harreslon), are relentless in their pursuit of Caesar and the apes’ home. According to the Colonel, the apes are a threat to human survival, and the threat must be completely terminated, or else the planet will be taken over by apes. His radical ideals have made him a renegade among the few remaining military commanders, which will come into play later. He instructs his Soldiers to kill all the apes they encounter, but the Soldiers fall to a sea of spears. Only a few men are allowed to live, due to Caesar’s compassion (once again we see it) and are sent back to the Colonel as a message. That too will come into play later. The Colonel has other plans, and his forces end up finding the apes. Caesar’s wife and one of his sons are killed, which sets Caesar on a path of rage and hate. His only mission is to find the Colonel and kill him. He sends the other apes in the opposite direction, where they are supposed to find their new home. Caesar’s closest friends, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca tell him that they are not letting him find the Colonel alone. On their journey to find the Soldiers, the apes encounter a deserter, who Caesar shoots down, before he shoots them. The deserter was taking care of a small girl, who couldn’t speak. The apes didn’t know why she was mute, but Maurice tells Caesar he won’t leave the girl alone to die, so she joins them. The group then encounters my personal favorite….BAD APE!!! Bad Ape was a hilarious addition to the story. I loved the character for his humor, his human-like faces and expressions, and the fact that he learned to speak through human interaction, although he was never exposed to the drug that was created. There is a bittersweet moment where Caesar and Bad Ape are telling each other that they both lost children, and Bad Ape deduces the reason that Caesar is looking for Soldiers. He tells Caesar that he knows where more Soldiers are, and decides to help find the Colonel. When the apes find the base, they discover some things. They see Soldiers preparing for an attack. They find buried remains of executed Soldiers. While scouting and trying to figure out how to infiltrate the base, Luca is killed. Caesar tells Maurice and Rocket to leave, and then he discovers that the rest of the apes never made it to their new home. They were captured by the Colonel’s forces, and made to work. Caesar is captured as well. The way the apes were forced to work was very reminiscent of the American slave trade. The parallels can’t be denied. No food. No water. Whipped and humiliated. Children treated harshly and locked up. And we all know how black people are often called monkeys or apes. When the apes end up escaping, they do it via an underground tunnel. Very powerful symbolism. So why were the apes forced to work? To fortify the base from attack. From who? A division of Soldiers whose mission is to take the Colonel and his loyalist down. Why? First reason was because he didn’t follow orders from his superiors. Second reason was that the Colonel was ordering certain Soldiers to be executed. The virus mutated, so those who were thought to be immune weren’t really free from the virus. It ended up manifesting itself into a new form, which caused the carrier to become mute. Those who turned mute were killed. Ironically, the Colonel contracted this new strain, which Caesar discovers as he heads to kill the Colonel. Caesar doesn’t kill him, however the Colonel takes his own life, right before the base is assaulted from the other division. A large firefight ensues, while all the apes are escaping, and during that Caesar is fatally injured by one of the Soldiers he showed mercy to at the beginning of the film. No good deed….. That firefight causes an avalanche, which buries all the Soldiers, and the apes climb the trees to escape. Caesar gets to see his fellow apes, including his youngest son, all make it to their new home, before he dies from his injury. The sun shining symbolizes peace as the camera fades to black. I didn’t shed tears on this one, but I was sad because I knew Caesar wasn’t going to make it once he took that arrow to the side. And the score did that to me as well. Goodness that slow, sad music really hits you. I can hear it in my head now. It’s not often that you watch a movie, and you don’t want to the humans to win. I was cheering for the apes all the way!

When it comes to my list of favorite trilogies, I have to mention the Night of the Living Dead trilogy (Dawn of the Dead…Dawn of the Planet of the Apes…..The best ones have “dawn” in the titles it seems), The Toy Story trilogy, and The Apes trilogy. Fantastic and gripping story-telling, special effects that were breathtaking, and characters that you either loved or hated. This rebooted series truly was ape strong!

CHEERS!

Migs Rodriguez

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