War for the Planet of the Apes
Intelligent, well-made and acted with extraordinary special effects and motion-capture work, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes make a strong case for the most pleasantly unexpected big-budget films in the post-Dark Knight Trilogy era.
Those qualities are largely present in the series third installment, War for the Planet of the Apes, though this go-round the assembled filmmakers mysteriously don’t trust their audience nearly as much.
Red flags are visible from the start as borderline patronizing introductory text summarizes the first two films and only justifies its existence to those who’ve seen those works through news that ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) hasn’t been seen by humans in a few years and is rumored to be dead.
A thrilling firefight between man and ape in a thick California forest helps relieve the noticeable absence of Rise and Dawn screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, as does a series of tense scenes orchestrated by director Matt Reeves that results in the apes in exodus and Caesar hell bent on revenge due to assassinations carried out by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
The path Caesar and trusted allies Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) take to their enemy involves stops that add a mute human girl (Amiah Miller) to their company.
A far more notable addition is a comic-relief, talking zoo escapee calling himself Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) that the quintet find in a rundown building eerily resembling the Overlook Hotel. Upstaging his more seasoned co-stars in the facial emoting department, Zahn injects the film with much-needed humor that Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback sprinkle in perfectly placed and measured doses.
As promised, the lengthy build-up gets the travelers to The Colonel’s doorstep, at which point Harrelson’s Col. Kurtz surrogate wafts in and out of a respectable Brando impersonation. The speech pattern is perhaps most front and center in a clumsy extended monologue that lays out his general mindset and theories on why certain humans have lost the ability to speak like he’s giving a PowerPoint presentation.
Minus a less expository means to deliver that information, War loses its way and wanders some more while Caesar attempts to gain traction as a prisoner forced to do hard labor alongside other abused apes.
Rescue efforts by his non-captured comrades beyond the compound walls get the film back on track, returning thrills and chills to its forefront and weaving in additional Bad Ape yuks that completely work despite arriving amidst some of the film’s bleakest moments.
The balance restored, Reeves & Co. go a step farther, honoring the previous films’ legacies and tying up certain storylines in true trilogy fashion while paving the way for future adventures. These strong concluding notes may not be enough to atone for War’s unimaginative missteps, but they maintain additional Planet of the Apes movies’ statuses as events worthy of anticipation.
Grade: B. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: 20th Century Fox)