Movie review: Ape leader Caesar one of the most interesting heroes in recent cinema

Borrowing from other movies can make for great viewing, as The Villainess and War For The Planet Of The Apes show

It's a week for remixes. Both movies are great viewing, proving that borrowing does not always mean cliche.

War For The Planet Of The Apes(PG, 140 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars), the third in the series, takes heavily from classic Vietnam conflict movies such as Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Apocalypse Now (1979).

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves, returning from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014), the second movie in the prequel trilogy, takes the Vietnam-era iconography a bit too far sometimes - there is a shot of the mad, glistening face of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson), which calls to mind Marlon Brando's in Apocalypse Now. Human soldiers go into battle with tough-guy poetry written on their helmets.

In spite of what the title says, no formal state of war exists between the civilisations of ape and man. Ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, in a motion-capture suit) preaches peaceful co-existence.

But a human army, led by the Colonel (played by Harrelson in dead-eyed warrior-mystic mode), seeks to kill or capture the apes for reasons of his own.

As in the earlier films, Reeves brings up the idea of a war of racial extermination, only to point out how wrong those ideas are.

Admittedly, his methods of arguing against the slippery slope of total annihilation are not the least bit sophisticated, but he makes them work.

The apes adopt a human orphan, Nova (Amiah Miller), while in the human army, ape turncoats perform a range of menial chores. Two legs are not always bad and there are apes that kill apes too.

The beleaguered apes, fleeing the Colonel's guns, make a hazard-filled journey to a promised land. The biblical notes are clear, but so is the more contemporary idea that they are refugees fleeing a war zone.

These ideas come alive quietly, in a science-fiction setting that is as much about character development as it is about action. Caesar is one of the most interesting heroes in recent mainstream cinema. Thoughtful, melancholic and empathetic, he is the opposite of the standard-issue Hollywood protagonist.

Kim Ok Bin plays female assassin Sook Hee in The Villainess PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Next on the remix list is The Villainess (M18, 124 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3.5/5 stars), which asks the question: What if Luc Besson's female-assassin flick Nikita (1990) were mated to Park Chan Wook's Vengeance Trilogy? (2002-2005).

As can be seen here, the result is a blast, a midnight-madness genre picture that makes up in style and droll humour what it lacks in premise originality.

Director and co-writer Jung Byung Gil, who made the excellent crime thriller Confession Of Murder (2012), opens the movie with a one-versus-many corridor fight right out of Park's Oldboy (2003) before switching to Nikita's school-for-assassins thread.

Sook Hee (Kim Ok Bin) is the waif trapped in a secret government facility that turns orphans into sleeper agents. After graduation, she has to make a kill, but her pre-training past comes back to haunt her.

Often, the cribbing from Besson's film is just too much, but Jung bets that the audience will forget the sin when the next bravura action piece comes along. For the most part, he is right.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Killer style makes up for lack of originality'. Print Edition | Subscribe