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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

waroftheplanetoftheapes-posterWe have been told that ape shall not kill ape. But times have changed, and the world has moved on. There’s a War for the Planet of the Apes, but the apes just want to survive. This might be the last we see of them for the two thousand years before Charlton Heston lands among them, but nothing is certain in this world. If future Apes movies could be as good as this one, no one would complain if there were more.

After two years of hiding, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens) has to leave his camp after it is discovered by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson, Wilson). Sending his fellow apes away and setting out with comrades orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval, TV’s The Magicians), gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite, Ninjago), and chimpanzee Rocket (Terry Notary, Kong: Skull Island), Caesar seeks revenge. Along the way he finds a mute human girl (Amiah Miller, Lights Out) and zoo chimpanzee Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, Captain Fantastic), and proceedings become more complicated than they expected.

War for the Planet of the Apes plays out in a straight line, but it feels like it covers many different tones in that time. Writer-director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and co-writer Mark Bomback (Insurgent) are able to tie them together, but the movie that you start with is definitely not the one you end up with. There’s an unspoken sense in this film that the apes are operating in a post-apocalyptic society that hasn’t yet admitted that the world has moved on. Unlike the previous two films, this is not an example of humanity and ape kind trying to co-exist; to that end, we only get one example of human society, and it’s not a pretty one. The movie has an impeccable sense of set design and world-building in general; it looks and feels real and, though there isn’t much in the way of action — it really isn’t that sort of movie — it’s all incredibly well choreographed.

Serkis and the special effects combine once more to the point that no suspension of disbelief is required to be convinced that the film is populated mostly by talking apes, who communicate largely in subtitled sign language. By now possibly the world’s pre-eminent motion capture actor, Serkis’ Caesar is wholly credible. Caesar is one of those rare film protagonists that demands the attention of the audience, and Serkis is in total control of the screen. Harrelson’s Colonel has a messiah complex, and though he is given to speechifying, this is not actually a sin. The rapport that Harrelson and Serkis share make for one of the most compelling hero/villain relationships of recent years, and thematically they have the whole trilogy nailed.

War for the Planet of the Apes may be somewhat long in places, and it may cover a lot of ground and genres in its time, but when there are so many small moments of perfection, they accumulate. War for the Planet of the Apes is overall a polished work that often explodes before your eyes into something truly radiant. If this is the end of a trilogy, it’s fitting. If it’s going to lead to something else, we can welcome that with open arms.

War for the Planet of the Apes opened in Australian cinemas on July 27, 2017.

Directed by: Matt Reeves.

Starring: Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Amiah Miller and Woody Harrelson.