War for the Planet of the Apes

 

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The ninth instalment in the franchise reaches a surprisingly profound and moving 

Ape-ocalypse.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes

   

“All of human history has led to this moment,” proclaims the Colonel. An unreasoning sadist bent on preserving his species, the latter proves to be the perfect antithesis to his simian rival, Caesar. Neither Woody Harrelson as the Colonel nor Andy Serkis as Caesar emote that much, but the blend of dignity and sadness in Caesar’s face expresses the greater humanity. Andy Serkis has become the past master of motion capture performance, evinced by his turns as Gollum, King Kong and Caesar. And this, the third instalment in the rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise, belongs to him. His face constantly mirrors the emotions of the film, his eyes speaking volumes, his stillness conveying the poise of a born leader. And it is his artistry that makes us forget that Caesar is an animal. The real animal, of course, is the Colonel.

 

Following the sympathetic portrayal of the gargantuan gorilla in Kong: Skull Island, it’s been a good year for apes. Never has the Ape-ocalypse seemed so disturbing to a human audience. Caesar still believes that he and his kind can live in harmony with the human species – with the apes moving deep into the impenetrable forest – but the trigger-happy military just wants them erased from the planet. In fact, many of the apes have been enslaved, shut up behind bars without food or water and expected to work around the clock. It makes the thought of an imprisoned chimpanzee unbearable. It also highlights the default mechanism of racism in the Homo sapien brain.

 

Considering that this is the ninth film in the Planet of the Apes canon, it is extraordinary that it is perhaps the best. The technology certainly helps, with the apes blending in seamlessly with the spectacular scenery, be it forested escarpments or snowy wasteland (shot largely in the Canadian Rockies). And the motion capture animation brings a new depth of emotion to the faces of the primates. This is the first chapter in which the apes truly take centre stage, although there’s a lovely touch with the introduction of a human ally, a mute oprhan girl called Nova (Amiah Miller). They speak, she cannot. And it’s to the film’s credit that on a number of dramatic occasions it doesn’t take the obvious option. It starts powerfully, thrillingly, then segues into an incredible journey in which we get to know and care for Caesar and his companions, in particular Maurice, a sage and sympathetic orangutan (Karin Konoval), and Luca, a heroic but tender Western lowland gorilla (Michael Adamthwaite). And because we care, there are heart-breaking moments, not least when Nova comes to Caesar’s aid with a vital offering of water.

 

There is already talk of a tenth film, which seems a shame, as War for the Planet of the Apes seems such a perfect conclusion to an extraordinary saga.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Amiah Miller, Gabriel Chavarria.

 

Dir Matt Reeves, Pro Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Screenplay Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, Ph Michael Seresin, Pro Des James Chinlund, Ed William Hoy and Stan Salfas, Music Michael Giacchino, Costumes Melissa Bruning.

 

Chernin Entertainment-20th Century Fox.

139 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 11 July 2017. Cert. 12A.