MOVIE REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes
IT'S 15 years since the 'Simian flu' has killed off most of humankind at the same time as boosting ape intelligence. The apes, led by the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis, reprising his celebrated voice and motion-capture performance), are living in caves in a forest of northern California, where they come under attack from an army platoon.
The dirty tactics of Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) soon provoke Caesar towards in-kind retribution, even though by nature he's the forgiving sort. Embarking on a guerilla mission of his own (no jokes please), Caesar and his comrades pick up two new allies: an orphaned human girl (Amiah Miller) and Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), a chimp escaped from a zoo. Like Caesar, Bad Ape has acquired the power of speech, which he deploys for some very welcome comic relief.
A war movie that's also a prison escape drama by way of the Biblical Exodus story, War For the Planet Of the Apes is a rousing entertainment that makes you care deeply about all its hairy characters and barely a jot about the bellicose human ones.
These Planet Of the Apes prequels are nothing if not morality fables about how people of different races treat each other - how, by waging war on those different to us by only a couple of chromosomes, we wage war on ourselves.
This one is also an unashamed homage to one of the greatest of all war films, Francis Ford Coppola's despairing statement on the Vietnam conflict, Apocalypse Now (1979). Harrelson's bald colonel, with his cult-like following and speeches about acting in the interests of human destiny, is a carbon copy of Marlon Brando's mad Colonel Kurtz.
In case we miss the allusion, there's even a punny bit of graffiti scrawled on a wall: 'Ape-ocalypse Now'.
Those who haven't seen the earlier film won't care, but for movie buffs, the plot coincidences quickly stop being entertaining and start to look like screenwriter laziness.
Full marks to the filmmakers, though, for bringing the ape cast to life with incredible verisimilitude. Whether it's down to Serkis or a room full of animators, there are vast wells of humanity in Caesar's performance.
And while the film's third act drags, it's worth it for the ultimate irony it delivers: the fact that it's easiest to get out of the way and let the humans destroy themselves. It's what they're best at, after all.
War for the Planet of the Apes opens tomorrow.
War For the Planet Of the Apes
Stars: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller.
Director: Matt Reeves
Verdict: 3.5 stars