War – war never changes…

Dunkirk [2017] and War for the Planet of the Apes [2017]

 

 

In Christopher Nolan’s tenth feature, you could be forgiven for thinking that war has never been any more real or threatening.

 

There’s a palpable sense of tension throughout the entirety of this highly original war movie (it’s hard to describe a 108-minute movie as an ‘epic’) that ceases to let up. The ensemble cast of mostly unknown players are propelled forward by Hans Zimmer’s metronomic soundtrack, as each strand of his carefully structured narrative slips and winds through each other.

 

It’s been over 75 years since the evacuation of Dunkirk, an act of retreat that has been celebrated as a military success that turned the tide of the Second World War. Over 800 civilian boats, many of them no larger than sail dinghies, made their way across the channel to aid the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, a feat as much attributed to national pride as a sense of self-preservation. Characters repeatedly utter how close to home they are, heightening both the sickening feeling of isolation as well as the fear of enemy troops touching home soil.

 

At it’s heart, Dunkirk is more of a survival movie than a war movie. Aside from Tom Hardy’s steadfast fighter pilot, the other players are more concerned with escaping their situations than escalating them with any kind of heroic actions. Mark Rylance and his two-man crew are hellbent on aiding the evacuations themselves, an old man and two young lads who want nothing more than to help. Meanwhile, Cillian Murphy is a shell-shocked officer struggling to come to terms with his cowardly actions and newcomer Ffion Whitehead is just a boy, willing to do anything to get home.

 

Mark Rylance and Cillian Murphy in Nolan’s ‘triump’ Dunkirk.

 

Dunkirk is a triumph of technical wizardry as well as tone. We fear for the characters and share in their brief moments of elation, regardless of the short amount of time that we spend with them, but this elation never feels saccharine. These are not flawless heroes fighting for democracy, they are simply men trying to do their best in an unprecedented situation.

 

War is the subject of another major blockbuster released this summer, what we can assume will be the final entry in the recent Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy. Matt Reeves (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Let Me In) is back for seconds and it’s clear that he cares for his friendly mo-capped apes, it’s just a shame that he couldn’t tie together the story of Caesar and his family with a little more panache.

 

Woody Harrelson ‘underused and immobile’ in Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes.

 

War starts strong with a failed attack on the apes’ forest compound by a group of newly branded soldiers led by Woody Harrelson (mostly underused and immobile here), but the repercussions of this exciting opening do not lead to the kind of thrilling conclusion that we were treated to in previous instalments. Reeves takes us from forest ambush, to mass exodus, to road trip, to post-apocalypse to POW camp (dropping some questionable references to Nazi concentration camps) without ever really engaging us. Harrelson’s antagonist is a loosely shaped cliche who explains himself through pained exposition, behind mirrored sunglasses, whilst Caesar’s conflicted emotions simply make for frustrating viewing.

 

By the time the gargantuan 2 hours 22 minute running time is at it’s end, the immaculately rendered apes have worn their welcome out and War feels more like one of attrition than anything else.

 

I know which movie I’d prefer to see again…