Tag Archives: Wes Ball

What Would Caesar Do?

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Seven years after Matt Reeves wrapped up the solid Planet of the Apes trilogy with a thrilling, full-on war movie, director Wes Ball takes the reins for a new chapter with a relevant conscience.

“You take his name, but twist his words.”

The characters may be talking about Caesar, leader of the ape revolution, but the filmmakers are aiming higher.

After a quick update on the rise of the apes, Ball and screenwriter Josh Friedman settle in “many generations” after Caesar’s death.

Young ape Noa (Owen Teague) is part of a clan that bonds with eagles, cares for the balance of nature, and is careful not to stray to the “valley beyond.” But their peaceful existence is shattered when the masked warriors of Proximus (Kevin Durand) invade, on a violent mission to bring in the human named Mae (Freya Allan).

Proximus has anointed himself the new Caesar, and believes Mae is the key to opening a long dormant vault holding human secrets of higher evolution.

Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy) returns to the adventurous roots of the original Planet of the Apes from ’68, and then ups the ante on action, visual spectacle and moral obligation.

When Mae finds protection and friendship with Noa and the tender, learned Raka (Peter Macon), it sets off a journey that is drawn out but frequently thrilling. Visual effects are again often wonderfully evocative, teaming with Gyula Padros’s layered cinematography and some nifty editing from the Dirk Westervelt/Dan Zimmerman team for effective world building and satisfying set pieces.

This is a story evolution that feels right, even urgent. The series, from its start, exposes the evil and hypocrisy in the lust for power that threatens every civilization. The fight in Kingdom primarily pits the speaking apes against each other, but it feels more realistic than most of what has hit the screen this year.

None of the characters compel the same level of interest as Ceasar, though. Andy Serkis is missed, and with him, Reeves, who elevated the irresistible Ape-Pocalypse of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes to political theater of near-Shakespearean proportions.

But Kingdom is on the right track and Ball has crafted a next chapter that leaves us wanting to read on.

The Running Dead

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

by George Wolf

As if the YA heroes in The Maze Runner films haven’t been through enough, here come the zombies!

OK, they’re really zombie-like, after catching the “Flare Virus” that is quickly sweeping the dystopian future world of the trilogy’s finale, The Death CureBut some young adults seem immune, and when Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is among those rounded up for research purposes, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest of his maze-running friends hatch a rescue plan.

Director Wes Ball is back to finish what he started with the first two MR films, and he flashes a well-developed eye for the composition of an effective action sequence. From the train-robbing prologue through the exploding finale in the “Last City,” the set pieces from Ball (a former visual effects supervisor) hold up. It’s what fills the time between the action, and how long it takes to reach that finale, that makes The Death Cure such a slog.

The themes are familiar and borrowed from any number of similar films, but it feels like there is a taut and tense action thriller buried somewhere beneath the two hour and twenty minute bloat.

While Will Pouter’s return gives the YA ensemble an impressive talent boost, Patricia Clarkson, playing little more than Standing Around Kate Winslet from the Insurgent series, is unnecessarily wasted. The connective drama here lacks the substance for all the mining it’s given, and the emotional depth the film is trying so hard to reach never materializes.