Sunday, July 16, 2017

For the Love of Apes

There are many people who feel compelled to see the latest blockbuster movie the weekend it opens up. There are even some who wait on line the night before, so they can be the very first person into the theater. There are still fewer who have been known to camp out in front of a movie theater for weeks prior to the opening of a highly anticipated film, because apparently their lives have evolved in such a way that they have no commitments to family, friends, employers, or general hygiene, and are thus able to put their lives on pause for a large chunk of time, so they can get the seat they want, as opposed to the one right next to it. I am not one of those people.

I prefer to see a film when it has been out for the past 14 weeks and it’s a Tuesday morning and there’s maybe three other people in the theater. Less crowds, less noise, less distractions, less hassle. Besides, while I love movies, I never feel like I have to see them as soon as they come out. Unless, of course, we’re talking about Ape movies.

I was raised on Ape movies. My brothers—especially my oldest brother, Steve—loved the Ape movies and, as an impressionable young lad, this fervor seeped into my veins. While I was born a year after the original Planet of the Apes came out and thus, did not see it in the theaters, I watched it and its four sequels—Beneath, Escape, Conquest, and Battle multiple times on television as a kid. And, speaking of television, I was about five when the Planet of the Apes TV series came out and I faithfully watched all 14 episodes. I had action figures, I had a t-shirt, I had a coloring book. Yes, I went ape for the apes.

That unadulterated passion for a movie franchise never translated to any other film series. When Star Wars came out, I saw it and thought, “It’s okay, but it’s no Planet of the Apes.” While all my friends were suddenly walking around with a light saber in their hands saying “Use the force,” I was still clutching my plastic Cornelius, while groveling on the floor yelling, “You maniacs! You blew it up!”

Yet, in the ensuing years, while Star Wars-mania seemed to grow and grow, Planet of the Apes culture seemed to fade into the woodwork. While my inner love for the Ape movies never died, over the years there was less and less reason to engage with the franchise. That is, of course, until 2011, when the series underwent an incredible reboot. (Side note: I was one of about eight people in the world who actually enjoyed the Tim Burton version made in 2001, but I won’t get into that right now.) The 2011 film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, presented a completely new—and seemingly, almost plausible—vision of the origins of an ape-controlled planet. When I saw it, I felt like a kid again—albeit one with a substantial amount of grey hair. The next film, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, continued where Rise left off and strengthened the franchise’s mythology.

I was becoming obsessed again. And that is why this weekend I broke my long-standing policy and decided to see a movie on its opening weekend. (Not opening night, though, because despite my ape-love, that’s just ridiculous.)

War for the Planet of the Apes was a film I had been anticipating pretty much since the credits rolled on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Given that the word “war” is in the title, you had to figure there would be even more talking apes fighting against even more crazed humans and from that perspective, the film did not disappoint. Woody Harrelson played the main crazed human in this installment and he did a commendable job, despite the fact that I’ve never been able to fully buy him in his various tough guy roles after years of playing a lovable simpleton in Cheers. Andy Serkis as lead ape, Caesar, was brilliant yet again. The character is tough, tender, intelligent, just, and dare I say…human. He’s an ape you’d want to have a beer with.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes was a solid film, though not quite on the same level as the first two in the new series. Nonetheless, it sated my thirst for simian cinema and, even though I saw the film on opening weekend, the 60 or so people in the theater were surprisingly quiet. I was too, although inside I was going ape the entire time.