The final installment of the adventures of Caesar, the ape hero of The Planet of the Apes, hits theaters on August 2, 2017. While Hollywood blockbusters continue to impose themselves like steamrollers, this Supremacy offers a completely different rhythm and a completely different purpose than its peers.
The summer 2017 Hollywood blockbuster summer collection show has just started, and the level seems to be relatively low again. Transformers: The Last Knight visibly opened the ball roughly, when the next Spider-Man: Homecoming promises to be much more fun but just as warm.
After the reboot of the franchise in 2011 by Rupert Wyatt, still derived from the science fiction novel by Frenchman Pierre Boulle with Les Origines, the next step in the adventures of Caesar was entrusted to director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield). The primate, the first of his species to develop human intelligence after undergoing experiments with Alzheimer’s disease, returns to the classroom on August 2.
From the second opus, L’Affrontement, the saga adopted a more warlike tone, staging the struggle between two civilizations, while following the progression of its hero. This second film was an excellent surprise, thanks in particular to the careful staging, rich in meaning and strong in symbol(s) – something that productions of this magnitude have mostly forsaken for more exposure.
Three years later, little has changed. This latest opus arrives in a context just as similar as the previous one, with the additional mission of concluding this trilogy with the long-awaited war between men and monkeys. Is this Supremacy as good a surprise as its predecessor?
War as a mere pretext
In this sequel, the monkeys isolated themselves in the heart of a thick forest in the central United States César (Andy Serkis) is still at the helm of this new society, and must face the despair of the men still alive, who are constantly searching for their hiding place.
The animal leader, however, tries not to give in to their provocations and continues to campaign for peace. Only a former colonel (Woody Harrelson) leading a group of slightly extremist surviving soldiers doesn’t hear it in this ear. One of his assassination attempts provokes the fury of Caesar, who is on a near-blind quest for revenge. If one could legitimately fear a certain form of repetition with the previous opus, one understands from the very first minutes that this fear is not (totally) justified. Matt Reeves’ raw and punchy opening scene makes us dive headfirst into his story.
The director espouses here more than ever the point of view of the apes, to make it clear that war is mainly caused by men… and that the real subject of the film remains Caesar. Moving from revolutionary to group leader, the hero finds himself confronted with the human condition, whether it is the colonel and his group or his own emotional impulses. In this, the film offers a magnificent conclusion to this trilogy, which has played the role of mirror of a desperate humanity all along.
Emotion on the edge
If the title of the film may suggest a feature film about battles, this third opus of The Planet of the Apes is much more spiritual. While the feature film does offer some explosive war scenes, they are clearly not the most impressive elements. The real feat consists in making the narration rest on characters in performance capture, shouting realism, which make us forget the special effects to play with our emotions.
A choice all the more daring (and successful) as the majority of the exchanges between characters are made without the use of speech but only through movement and staging. The film gains in readability and simplicity, and even takes the time to set up a heavy and dramatic atmosphere that is increasingly rare in a summer production. By taking up certain western codes, The Planet of the Apes – Supremacy surprises by its rhythm and by its very appreciable absence of moral judgement.
The choices of Caesar or the colonel constantly question their own roles, but the film avoids pointing the finger at either one. At least, he tries, without being able to hide a stronger empathy for his hero than for his opponent.
If Woody Harrelson delivers a correct but rather bland performance in the role of opponent, the real tour de force is signed Andy Serkis. The actor, who has nothing left to prove since he played Gollum and Kong thanks to this technology, pushes his atypical acting work even further.
The rest of the cast also excels, with the young and fascinating Amiah Miller but also the ever touching Karin Konoval in Mauritius and the hilarious Steve Zahn in Bad Ape, who offers the few rare moments of lightness welcome in the feature film
Strings that are a bit big
For more than half of the feature film the story is as exciting as it is intense. Unfortunately, some of the flaws in the third act obscure the picture, including some rather large strings to bring the story to its conclusion. A strong passage all the more regrettable as the main quality of the film was its rather slow tempo and its attention to detail.
By Matt Reeves’ own admission, some scenes have been largely cut to focus on the character of Caesar during these 2 hours 20. A laudable choice, but one that leaves a rather unpleasant feeling of acceleration and gives rise to a regrettable (but punctual) lack of geographical coherence. However, the accumulation of these defects at the end of the film makes one all the more aware of the real quality of this concluding section.
A story classic enough to be effective and symbolic enough to make the viewer think,The Planet of the Apes – Supremacy is a good blockbuster, in tune with the times, but rather limited in its development.
It offers intense war scenes and will delight audiences already seduced by the two previous opus. It was simply regretted that the technical and screenwriting flaws of the film prevented its purpose from being truly transgressive. As it stands, it remains a very good entertainment, probably much better than most of the blockbusters expected in theatres this summer.
The Planet of the Apes – Supremacy
Indicative note : 4/5
In the end, the success of The Planet of the Apes – Supremacy owes much of its success to Caesar and his dramatic awakening to humanity, which finds its conclusion here. The film proves much less interesting in a last part that doesn’t really know how to conclude and transcend its symbols.
Matt Reeves’ feature film remains one of the best Hollywood blockbusters of 2017, and probably the best you’ll see in theatres this summer. One will regret the cuts in the narrative and some themes that are covered but not really deepened, which prevent it from being really excellent.
- Andy Serkis, better than ever
- Visible creative freedom in staging
- A nice and coherent conclusion to the trilogy
- A shallower scenario than it seems.
- A bit of a rough facility in the conclusion
- Some assembly problems