SIZE doesn’t matter – at least when cinema’s most beloved apes are involved.
Just a few months ago, the new King Kong franchise got off to a loud and clumsy (but mostly loud) start. With Skull Island’s brittle approach to storytelling, any hope of emotional investment in Kong’s big-screen future is already teetering dangerously atop the Empire State Building.
Compare that to this month’s returning simian-centric franchise. Fittingly featuring more intelligible and amply-sized apes, War for the Planet of the Apes delivers a feast of popcorn munching action drizzled in a healthy serving of genuinely touching substance.
We join Caesar several years after his deathly showdown with rival ape agitator Koba. His group of apes have since retreated deep into the forest and are attempting to fend off ambushes from an army of humans led by a fiercely-driven aggressor named the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).
Despite this, Caesar, now grizzled and greying, still clings on to hopes of a peaceful outcome. That is until a devastating and personal attack leaves him enraged and questioning his principles. After sending his group out in search of a promising new land, Caesar embarks on a quest to enact a bloody revenge on the Colonel.
War is very much Caesar’s story. He is our sympathetic, mythical and conflicted protagonist, who shoulders the brunt of the film with enough grit and edge to rival Eastwood or Wayne on horseback.
The technology behind Cesar’s character, and the man behind it (the ever-convincing Andy Serkis) are seamlessly rewarded. At one point, the Colonel stands face-to-face with Cesar and remarks: ‘My God, look at your eyes. Almost human.’ It is a powerfully delivered line that not only speaks to the human’s fear of being replaced, but the believability of Cesar as an on-screen force. Hail, Cesar indeed.
With head shaved and back in sunglasses, Harrelson is magnetic opposite Serkis. His character indiscreetly mimics Colonel Kurtz from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now! (writer and director Matt Stevens even acknowledges his film’s many allusions to Coppola’s with graffiti reading Ape-calypse Now).
The Colonel is hell-bent on securing the future of humankind at the apes’ expense. Unhinged, ruthless and obsessed with history (the apes are only just forging their own) he makes the perfect nemesis for Cesar.
In contrast to the Colonel is the introduction of a Dobby-like ape (played by Steve Zahn) who brings welcome laughs to the film. A minor complaint would be that the humour undermines a few important moments, making matters feel more Chicken Run than Great Escape. Likewise, a bizarre force majeure occurrence (you’ll know it when you see it) feels unnecessary.
Another standout is Michael Giacchino‘s score. He did excellent work with Reeves on the previous Apes film score and here he triumphs with the pounding marching drums that brilliantly accompany Caesar’s relentless journey through fierce snow in the middle section of the film.
War for the Planet of the Apes gives Reeves (also of Cloverfield fame) a splendid excuse to beat his chest with pride.
Serkis, Harrelson, Zahn and Karin Konoval (who once again plays loveable Orangutan Maurice) should not be far behind with their beats.
Forget King Kong. These mighty apes have already won the war.
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War for the Planet of the Apes arrives in cinemas on 12 July