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The apes of wrath

14 July, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Andy Serkis and friends in War For the Planet of the Apes

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Directed by Matt Reeves
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆☆

IT feels good to know that the recent Planet of the Apes reboots are gently leading us towards the moment Charlton Heston crash lands on a planet that looks like Earth, but has seen a major swerve take place in the evolutionary tree of life.

In this third instalment of the new Ape franchise, we’re taken another step closer to the start of the 1968 original.

Top simian Caesar (Andy Serkis) is hiding out in woods with his extended family, hoping the remnants of the human race will leave them in peace.

But monkey-hating Colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his heavily armed militia see it as their job to hunt down and slaughter the highly evolved apes. The Colonel reckons the only way to save the human race is to wipe out our hairy cousins.

Meanwhile, Caesar believes it is time to lead his fledgling society out from their tough hiding place, which is in reach of the scaly arms of the humans, to a promised land – in a head-spinning action-packed opening sequence, we learn it is across a desert. Caesar becomes Moses freeing his people, crossed with Steinbeck’s Jobe family seeking a new life in the west.

But when the Colonel swoops into their sodden mountain lair and murders Caesar’s wife and child, the mellow peacenik Caesar sees red and seeks vengeance.

He tells his tribes to run for it while he turns heel and heads off to find the Colonel…

Usually, it is horrible to see a film that relies heavily on special effects. Too often it feels like an excuse to cast off basic storytelling. But in WFTPOTA there are two things at play. The first is how utterly stunning the apes look – they’ve nailed the body suit thing. Secondly, the storyline works well – there is an element of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road running through it.

There is also the fact that Serkis’s Caesar is a compelling lead. We have come to know him in previous instalments – Dawn and Rise – and he is the central figure here. This is his story. Director Matt Reeves cites Clint Eastwood’s brilliant The Outlaw Josey Wales (what a film) and Apocalypse Now as inspirations. This demonstrates his laudable aims – and he hits his targets.

Even the slightly weak character of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who brings a childish line in humour and offsets the fact this is an Ape vs Man war film, has a modicum of charm.

Now: bring on Heston and co’s crash landing…

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