The core concept of a dinosaur theme park that goes haywire has been done twice now. Both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World have done that story. Jurassic Park saw the park never open, while Jurassic World showed us why that was probably a good thing. Both are fantastic, the first being my favorite movie of all the time.
The problem is that you can’t open the park a third time. After two failed attempts, no one would go to that park again. It would stretch the disbelief a little too far. The Lost World: Jurassic Park came up with a good reason to get people back on the island, the idea that companies would try to pillage the remaining dinosaurs for profit or that our human curosity would be too much to not study them. Jurassic Park III, well, it’s certainly a movie, isn’t it?
I think that third film showed the problem with having a remote location to keep the dinosaurs locked away. I could watch people trapped on a dinosaur island every day for the rest of my life and never get bored, but you start running out of reasons to get them there. How many helicopters/planes/ships can crash with a crew of interesting characters who have skills able to keep them alive from Velociraptors? Five? Eighteen? It’s a finite number, I’m sure.
So, I think, you have two options. One is to set up permit residence on the island. Come up with a reason people are living on that island, despite the dinosaurs. That’s hard, because something has to go wrong, otherwise we’re watching Dinotopia, which would be my jam as well, but that’s it’s own franchise. In Jurassic Park, people have to get eaten. It’s important. To me.
The second option, which I would have never thought I’d be down for, is to let the dinosaurs loose in the world. And that’s what Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom sounds like it’s setting up, even if the “world” is just mainland military bases and neighboring towns. But, from there, the sky’s the limit!
What I’ve been thinking is that, maybe, it’s time for the franchise to shake up the status quo. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released, it presented the apes that gain intelligence as a localized occurrence in the here-and-now. In order for it to be conceivable that the planet could become theirs, there needed to be another force to lower the human population and even the playing field. The Simian Virus in that rebooted series shrunk the human population, creating a dystopia where a few hundred intelligent apes were dangerous and becoming the dominate species.
Jurassic World introduced us to the idea of extreme genetic manipulation with dinosaurs, creating the Indominus Rex. In the sequel, it sounds like humans, specifically the movie universe’s now seemingly evil company InGen, aren’t done messing with DNA. What if, in doing so, they ended up creating a virus like that in the new Planet of the Apes films. What if humanity is no longer plentiful and dinosaurs roam the earth?
I love that idea.
To be fair, I probably love that idea because it’s not unlike Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. You’d have a reason why a T-Rex could be loose in suburbia and we couldn’t stop it. Sure, those humans that are still alive have weapons, but the world doesn’t work the same way anymore. And humans are panicky primates. If you have an assault rifle and a Spinosaurus started charging at you, I’d be surprised if you didn’t start running, fully loaded gun and all.
How far should this world go? Makeshift cars akin to Mad Max? The toys alone would be fantastic! Domesticated dinosaurs? We’ve seen trained raptors, so why not? InGen could still be around, maybe as a paramilitary force keeping most people under their charge. Sure, that would start to turn them into the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil movies, but even bad movies can have decent ideas.
Yes, doing any of this would change the franchise forever. But, with a title like Jurassic World, the concept of going expansive is set. And change is good. It’s chaotic, it’s evolution. The plots would be forced to deal with the human characters and their motivations, while still including the prehistoric carnage these movies have always been so good at delivering. We’ve had four (and probably five) movies set in a slightly grounded dinosaur populated universe. Let’s go big.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of my favorite movie going experiences of the last ten years. I wanted to see it, but in no way did I think it was going to be good. Even when the reviews dropped, I had no real idea what to expect. I was taken aback by the movie. The “NO!” moment of Rise made my jaw drop, it was so shocking and thrilling. It was, and still is, a fantastic film.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a stressful one, because everything you want to happen goes wrong. The conflict between the fading humans and “dawning” apes of the movie felt like it was tipping over for two hours and was intense with little relief. It’s an impressive sequel, and darker as well.
And with that we come to War for the Planet of the Apes. The first thing to mention is that this third film is bleaker than the last two. This isn’t a triumphant, crowd pleasing series topper. It’s dark, depressing and the light at the end of the tunnel feels dimmer than one might hope to see.
The movie opens with a battle between human military and an ape fort. The military is out to end the ape problem once and for all, hoping to kill the simian leader (and hero of the series) Caesar. When Caesar offers peace once more and things go wrong again, it’s time for treaties to end. Caesar gets selfish and, of course, things don’t work out and the rest of the movie is about Caesar trying to amend his mistakes.
Did I mention the movie is bleak? It’s winter, so the movie is full of dead landscapes and gray skies. The world feels like it’s fading away. The people left alive aren’t the best humanity has to offer. Even the apes feel directionless, trapped between annihilation or all out war.
The movie also spends a lot of time in a military base that really brings the dark. Cages, work forces, fanatics with omega tattoos. Director Matt Reeves seems to be channeling his best Spielberg with this set, with more than one allusion to Schindler’s List. And that won’t be the last movie referenced either. The film is built off of the blueprints of The Ten Commandments, Apocalypse Now and True Grit.
While Rise was a boiler and Dawn was an all out blockbuster, War is character piece. It’s a contemplative film, more focused on Caesar’s journey than an actual war. This might put some off, as there’s very little in the way of action set pieces, save for the opening and climax. Nothing on par with the apes escaping in Rise or the raid on the human settlement in Dawn. The moments of action we see are more harrowing than thrilling. While I liked the film, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that the series ends on smaller notes. But it resonates at the end, in ways that Dawn didn’t.
Woody Harrelson is a scary guy in the movie. He’s crazy, sure, but he’s focused. He’s in charge. His life is violence and he’s made tough choices, even if he wasn’t forced into them. He’s a bit like Patton, a bit of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. He hates the newly intelligent apes, but needs them. Like Caesar, his mistakes might threaten his own people.
Of course, it’s Caesar who owns the screen. Ever since the first in this new reboot series, Caesar has carried these movies. Surrounded by character actors, Andy Serkis continues to be the most compelling actor on screen and makes Caesar a hero to root for. The work begun with Gollum has been refined to perfection. Caesar is now one of the great movie characters of all time.
Like this year’s Logan, which left me depressed in all sorts of ways, War attaches itself to you and ruins your day. I don’t know how rewatchable a film like that is, as blockbusters don’t do that too often. The Hunger Games and it’s sequels had a stronghold for a while on depressing, big budget dystopias. The “fun” of Rise is gone in this third chapter and replaced with something that’s a bit more meaningful, but less enjoyable. It’s a movie that’s good for you, it tricks you into eating your vegetables with large scale storytelling and CGI apes. But you wouldn’t want to see this every weekend at the movies, it would be horrible for your good mood. A fun time? Not really. Recommended? Absolutely.