To paraphrase a line of dialogue from the nearly fifty-year old initial entry in the series,
those ‘damn dirty apes’ are back. War for the Planet of the Apes, in case you aren’t in the know or have forgotten, is the third and supposed final entry in a prequel series that began six years with Ape’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and was followed three years later with the critically lauded entry Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The middle chapter, Dawn, was a film that earned most of the acclaim that it was awarded. Matt Reeves, the director behind such well received genre fare as Let Me In and Cloverfield, injected a much needed intelligence and humanity into the proceedings. That’s a rarity in the current movie studio climate for anyone who hasn’t been keeping score.
Dawn of the Planet of Apes dealt with the main ape character, Caesar, being at odds with rival primate, Koba. Koba, it seems, harbored ill will towards humans due to his being the subject of botched experiments. Koba and Caesar squared off in the finale as a virus simultaneously wiped out most of humanity, which paved the way for the current film.
As War begins, Caesar (Andy Serkis, amazing as ever in another terrific motion capture performance), just wants to live and let live with his family in the forest as the remaining humans deal with the aftereffects of the virus unleashed at the end of the previous entry. The apes get a chance to make a new start in a new land but Caesar must first contend with a mad colonel (Woody Harrelson) who is responsible for personal losses that Caesar has endured. If you’re thinking that having a character hunt down a mad colonel might be an allusion to Apocalypse Now then you’re on the right track.
Eventually, Caesar is imprisoned with other primates whom the colonel has enslaved as a make shift work force which he intends to put to use in the building of a border wall. This element comes across as a bit forced. Still, credit must be given to Reeves for attempting to keep things relevant in the President Trump world in which we live.
The final act of the film involves an attempt to free Caesar and his comrades from their prison and this is where the film stumbles. The pacing of the film slows to a crawl at this point and hurts the film as a whole. Thankfully, things are wrapped up in a way that feels satisfying.
The biggest problem, much as it was an issue the last time around, is the overstuffed running time. Shorn of about half an hour, War for the Planet of the Apes could have really ranked higher for me if the last section didn’t feel like such an endurance test. There’s still much to embrace but it’s a shame that it’s a definite step down from the last trip to apes territory as opposed to a step up in terms of quality.
Photo: Woody Harrelson in War for the Planet of the Apes
This is playing at the AMC in Hickory.
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