Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: War for the Planet of the Apes

“Annabelle: Creation” and “The Emoji Movie” are also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

The “Planet of the Apes” trilogy goes out with a bang (several of them) with “War for the Planet of the Apes.” After a pair of mediocre installments, and in spite of some scenes in this movie running a bit too long, the third time is the charm as this movie gets it right with its balance of character, story, and action.

The movie opens with a bang, too, as the human army under the leadership of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) attacks an ape encampment. Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and older son Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) are killed, and his young son Cornelius (Devyn Dalton) is held captive in a human-run forced labor prison camp.

Caesar vows revenge on the Colonel and is Ahab-like in his obsession. He’s joined by three friends who also represent the main sub-species of the ape world: orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), chimp Rocket (Terry Notary), and gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). The three also represent distinct portions of Caesar’s own personality and complement him well. Maurice provides level-headed wisdom, Rocket--who also lost a son--provides emotional gravitas, and Luca is about strategy and strength. With mental, emotional, and physical aspects in place, they begin their journey. I greatly admired this first hour or so of the movie in which the apes are treated as real beings that exist in this world. For lack of a better way of putting it, they’re humanized and become relatable. This is the key to setting up the rest of the movie, which takes place in the prison camp.

Once the prison camp is reached—after an older ape known as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) shows them the way—the war movie that is promised by the title kicks into place. However, it is a war movie that is more in line with “Stalag 17,” “Bridge on the River Kwai,” and “Unbroken” than it is with “Back to Bataan” or “Saving Private Ryan.” The movie’s closest cousin may be “Apocalypse Now.” To wit: There’s a journey to a camp where a megalomaniacal colonel is committing atrocities. Said colonel has a completely shaved head and speaks in long soliloquies about past horrors, which make his present motives clear and even makes him somewhat sympathetic. And in case you didn’t get it, there’s graffiti on a wall that says “Ape-pocalypse Now.” You can do your own math on that one.

The visual effects in “War for the Planet of the Apes” are state of the art. Everything looks photo real—not created on a computer—and I especially admire the way the CGI artists were able to create looks of wet, cold, and dirt in the hair of the apes. This is in no way meant to discount the thought and artistry behind making so many apes look so expressive in their faces and with their body language. Graphically speaking, the movie is a marvel to behold.

If that’s all there was to “War for the Planet of the Apes,” I could leave it at that, but this movie delves in much deeper than just the visuals. It creates a world in which apes and humans co-exist in fear of one another rather than in peace. This leads to a war for dominance over the planet, and only one side can be victorious. I guess that’s the classic tragedy of beings with higher thought: Their species must always be on top, and any threats must be eliminated. This fear of course leads to hatred and senseless bloodshed until one side emerges victorious.

Given that these movies all have “Planet of the Apes” in the title, it’s not hard to guess who comes out on top. As a fan of the original movie from 1968, it is interesting to consider that this movie arrives at the same place—a world controlled by apes—but via a different path. No maniacs blow up the planet in this movie. Something else happens instead that gives the apes an advantage. I think that just as much as the threat of nuclear annihilation spoke to that era, the plague that spreads amongst humans speaks this one. The times may have changed, but the end result is still the same. Rent it.

Also New This Week

Annabelle: Creation

With all of the recent happenings in the news regarding Harvey Weinstein, it’s hard to watch a movie like “Annabelle: Creation” and not wonder about the real horror behind it. No, I’m not talking about the Raggedy Anne doll that is the inspiration for these movies. I’m talking about how this cast is full of young girls and in light of recent revelations I can’t help but wonder what disgusting perversions went on behind the scenes.

Hopefully none, but it is an elephant in the room that can’t be ignored. The movie itself is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle,” which takes us all the way back to the making of the doll by a man named Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia). Early on, he and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) lose their daughter Bee (Samara Lee) in a gut-wrenching accident. Years later, a group of young orphan girls are invited to live in their home in the country. One of the young girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman), who is crippled by polio, unlocks Bee’s old room and it’s not long before she discovers the titular doll.

Director David F. Sandberg creates an eerie and foreboding atmosphere in and around the Mullins house at night. Dimly lit scenes inside of Bee’s room are chilling. Sandberg is very careful to take his time and build the intensity until just the right moment when the tension is broken. There may not be too many scares per scene in this movie, but the ones that are there are genuine rather than cheap jump scares, and the movie is an effective chiller. Like with most anything else in life, I will take quality over quantity, so I am happy with the end result.

“Annabelle: Creation” puts in some puzzle pieces story-wise that relate to the mythos surrounding the Annabelle doll. My only real issue is the happenchance way that this prequel connects to the 2014 movie. When you stop and think about them taking place one after the other, it is a pretty amazing coincidence. But that can be forgiven by virtue of all the good that comes before it—and after. Watch the credits to the end. Or, perhaps, fast forward. The mid-credit sequence with a close-up of Annabelle is a predictable bit of nothing, but the after credits sequence teases the next spinoff created by the world of “The Conjuring,” which is “The Nun.” If that movie is half as freaky as the end credit tease, I will be sure to plan on not sleeping the night I watch it. Rent it.

The Emoji Movie

“The Emoji Movie” represents all that is wrong with the soulless Hollywood cash grab. It’s essentially a ninety minute animated advertisement for smartphones and apps with some attempts at emotional resonance thrown in as an afterthought. Add to it the leftist-Marxist jabs that spring up now and then in an attempt to influence impressionable youth and this adds up to one painfully groan-inducing movie.

Appropriately, the main character of the movie is named Meh (voice of T.J. Miller). He’s the emoji used in text messages when things aren’t too good or aren’t too bad—they’re just “meh.” The problem for Meh is that he is multi-talented and can pull off a bunch of different expressions. In the world of emojis everyone is supposed to have just one expression, so with the help of the now uncool Hi-5 (voice of James Corden) and hacker Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris), Meh seeks out a way to get re-coded to have one expression.

The trio adventure through all of the most popular apps available for download in case you don’t have them already: Drop Box, Facebook, Youtube—even the Trash makes an appearance. Games like “Candy Crush” and “Just Dance” are entered as well, and along the way some life lessons are learned.

The beats of the story are obvious. There is nothing particularly interesting or inspired in any of the writing or characters. Even the casting of deadpan comedian Steven Wright as Meh’s father is a bit too on the nose.

“The Emoji Movie” is much too superficial to be heavy handed, so it is especially out of place when every few scenes Jailbreak spouts off some feminist agenda nonsense like, “Women are always inventing things that men take credit for.” If some wacko starting pushing these points on Youtube, the overwhelming response would be, “Citation needed.” But here there’s a captive audience. It’s bothersome to think that otherwise bright young minds could be influenced by this drivel. Then again, with a movie this puerile, it most likely doesn’t have a chance of influencing anyone at all. Thank goodness. No matter what age, everyone should Skip it.

More New Releases: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” speaking of puerile, nonsensical drivel, if Al Gore is purporting to tell me the truth I can be pretty sure that the opposite of what he says is actually what’s right; and “The Old Dark House,” one of the milestone classics of horror, this 1932 movie is the template for all others to come after that feature lost or stranded travelers seeking shelter in a big house with a strange family, starring Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, and Charles Laughton.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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