The Bock’s Office: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ — No more monkeying around
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 140 minutes
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn and Karin Konoval
Now playing at Steamboat Springs’ Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
There are some things worth fighting for, be it the promise of a better future or the integrity of one of the greatest pop culture phenomena of all time, and in “War for the Planet of the Apes” those two things go hand in furry hand.
The battle between humankind and the race of intelligent apes is greater than ever as the army of superior simians led by chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis) is now engaged in combat with a military offshoot known as Alpha-Omega.
Caesar is more than willing to let the fighting end if humans will only leave his kind in peace. However, the feeling is not mutual as the leader (Woody Harrelson) of this band of renegades is determined to wipe out the apes at any cost.
The tribe’s plans to relocate south from their home in the woods of northern California interrupted by an ambush that results in Caesar’s wife and son (Judy Greer, Max Lloyd-Jones) being slaughtered.
As his fellow apes hope to move forward, their leader’s attention is turned to vengeance as he seeks out the men responsible, though his newfound mission may turn him into everything he hates.
Whether it’s his menacing scowl or his commanding voice, Serkis can do almost no wrong as the great revolutionary of our time, although Caesar’s morality and compassion are put to the ultimate test here as he loses what matters most to him and begins to embrace the same darkness of mankind that led to his leading an uprising.
It would seem whether flesh and blood or motion-capture, man or monkey, every idealistic leader starts to have their point of decline.
Then again, that’s assuming they had any mercy in the first place, and Harrelson’s mad, despotic ruler, known simply as The Colonel, shows few glimpses of humanity as someone who purports to be only interested in preserving his species before time runs out on mankind.
Did the virus that led to the apocalypse not tip you off about that?
Of course, you’d be grasping at straws too, if you knew what he knows.
Woody’s accomplices have little disparity among them as they mindlessly chant out the mantra of Alpha-Omega — a callback to the massive nuke that wipes ‘em all out in 1970’s “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” — yet there’s plenty of variety in personality to be found elsewhere.
Though most of Caesar’s clan still can’t vocalize their thoughts or choose to stick to sign language and grunts, their levels of intellect speak for themselves nonetheless.
Gorillas Red and Winter (Ty Olsson, Aleks Paunovic) show there’s no limits to the abuse someone will take when they’re convinced it’s in their best interests, in this case, being relegated to voluntary slave labor by a human army that refers to them as donkeys.
At least a fellow named Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) has more self-respect.
The chimps, naturally, remain the most complex, whether it’s Caesar’s faithful friend Rocket (Terry Notary), his would-be daughter-in-law Lake (Sara Canning) or a new companion they stumble across, a bumbling, cowardly zoo refugee (Steve Zahn) who can only refer to himself by the name thrust upon him by humans: Bad Ape!
Then there’s Karin Konoval as the orangutan Maurice, who may be the best of all the primates, with wisdom to spare, no sense of malice and a heart that remains open to a young girl (Amiah Miller) he adopts as his own.
There’s been a sense of offbeat grandeur in this reboot of the campy 1960s and ‘70s series, one which puts aside the simpler trappings of science-fiction and allows for realism even in the most outlandish of circumstances, though with such spectacularly immersive effects, that’s not exactly an issue.
As if there’s any doubt, the fate of the world always comes down to a climactic battle between good and evil, and even if you don’t know what side you’re on, you know who’s already lost.
The key element of the preceding “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” was the faint, flickering light of hope that’s been abruptly snuffed out for a harsher, unavoidably cynical excursion. Make no mistake, director and co-writer Matt Reeves does things right in portraying the sun setting on humankind, but that doesn’t make it easier to accept.
Then again, a great movie should compel you to watch through the tough material.
Or the occasional poop-flinging.
Reeves relies on a few too many clichés, most of which work, though it’s showing Caesar as the typical despondent husband and father that keeps the story arc from evolving the way it should.
It’s not something that ruins the film outright, yet it tries to turn this hero into so many others motivated to important causes by personal grief, and the simian version of William Wallace isn’t exactly what we had in mind.
It’s a little less thoughtful and provocative than what came before, yet there’s no disputing “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a riveting summer sci-fi smash.
Say it with me: APES! TOGETHER! STRONG!
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