War for the Planet of the Apes

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Laura Clifford 
War for the Planet of the Apes

Robin Clifford 

Fifteen years ago, Gen-Sys scientist Will Rodman experimented on apes in search for an Alzheimer's cure.  When the intelligent apes began acting strangely, his research was shut down, but he rescued a baby, Caesar (Andy Serkis), who learned how to speak.  But the other apes escaped and a virus was unleashed that was disastrous for mankind.  Koba (Toby Kebbell) hated the humans who survived and began a war.  Caesar, who leads a colony deep in the Muir Woods, is intent on maintaining peace, but Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) has his own reasons for refusing to accept his terms in "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Laura:
Cowriter (with his "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" collaborator Mark Bomback)/director Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") caps the trilogy with an epic story, but it is Andy Serkis's interior battle, Caesar's humanity dueling with his simian instincts, that is the single most spectacular element of the film.  Caesar continues to evolve, just as the Weta Digital technology that transforms Serkis's motion capture performance does, now so finely rendered we can see a sheen of sweat beneath Caesar's fur.

When we rejoin the apes, Caesar's son Blue Eyes and his friend Ash have just returned with news of a human special forces commander who has a military encampment to the north.  The apes soon become aware of soldiers encroaching on their territory, their helmets adorned with 'Monkey Killer' and 'Bedtime for Bonzo' slogans.  But the apes outsmart them, capturing squad leader Preacher (Gabriel Chavarria, "A Better Life").  Caesar releases him with a 'live and let live' message for his colonel, but begins to make plans to move the colony to a new location.  That night, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) himself rappels through a waterfall intent on killing Caesar.  Mistakenly, he kills the ape leader's wife and Blue Eyes, although Caesar's infant son Cornelius survives.  Painfully aware that revenge would be Koba's reaction, Caesar nonetheless will not rest until he's struck down the man who took his family.

The colony splits, Caesar entrusting his infant son to those migrating to a new home. But his best friend Rocket (Terry Notary) will not let him go alone and so he, Caesar, orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Silverback gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) head for the snowy Sierra Mountains on horseback.  At a seemingly abandoned encampment, the apes encounter a man who is killed in the standoff, but they've unwittingly orphaned a mute little girl (12 year-old newcomer Amiah Miller) and although Caesar wants to leave her, Maurice will not.  But it is Luca who bonds with the blond they will later name Nova (the mute character paired with Charlton Heston in the 1968 "Planet of the Apes"), picking a blossom he gently tucks behind her ear.  They'll pick up another traveler when the stop at an ice encased ski lodge.  Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who's lived alone for many years, is an escaped zoo chimpanzee who joins the cause.  Luca is lost in an ambush.

When the remaining group finally spies the colonel's base, they're horrified.  They find three human soldiers shot and left to die on its outskirts.  The only one still breathing is unable to answer Caesar's questions.  His next realization is even more dire.  The colonel's base is Tower Rock prison and Caesar's colony are shackled, forced into labor by the 'donkey' apes under the colonel's command.

"War for the Planet of the Apes" references many films - "The Great Escape," "Apocalypse Now" and "The Searchers" to name a few - but its larger grasp is historical, a new civilization forming as an old one wanes.  The colonel's hard line tactics are motivated by a quest to save the human race, the virus now causing humans to devolve, losing their power of speech (the filmmakers neatly tie this into American history, where European illnesses caused more Native American deaths than atrocities committed against them).  A third group comes into play in the film's last act, one which more ambiguously links into the upcoming events of the 1968 film.  Reeves's powerful ending is Biblical in nature, moving and powerful, again largely thanks to Serkis.

His performance is masterful, a true leader facing his basest instincts and inconceivable loss yet never losing focus on the greater good.  He's ably supported by Konoval and Notary, newcomer Adamthwaite poignant beneath his Silverback exterior while Zahn adds levity and excitement as the chimp who'd been predisposed to being alone only to find a whole new family. Young Miller, resembling "Les Miserables'" Cosette, is expressive with no dialogue.  Harrelson is dangerous yet cautious, respectful of his foe, sympathetic when he breaks.

'They're almost human' says McCullough gazing into Caesar's eyes and yes, the folks at Weta Digital have outdone themselves here, using CGI to further reality rather than depart from it. Cinematographer Michael Seresin ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes") creates sweeping vistas in 65mm digital format.  Michael Giacchino's ("Up," "The Book of Henry") score changes with the emotional landscape, early flutes giving way to greater orchestral majesty.

Grade:  B+

Robin:
A special forces team of humans and ape “donkeys” stage a ruthless ambush on a remote primate camp. But, what starts as a slaughter of the simians is turned into victory by Caesar (Andy Sirkis) and his fighters. He releases his captured human soldiers and sends them back to their renegade leader, Col. McCullough (Woody Harrelson), with the message “leave us alone” or fight the “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

This is the third in the current reboot of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise which began way back in 1968 and had a stellar cast, led by buff and tanned Charlton Heston with the rest made up as various species of talking apes (Roddy McDowall. Kim Hunter, Maurice E#vans and James Whitmore, among others). That film was an iconic original that, though a bit dated, still plays well today. (I know that I have watched it, in part at least, during the past year. Who can forget the classic line, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”?)

But, the franchise has evolved (some may say devolved) and expanded in many ways, the main being the development of CGI and motion-capture that replaced the ape costumes and elaborate makeup of the original. Is this a good thing? Well, sure, the modern technology we have now versus that of a half century ago, like the computer and the Internet, is hands above, But, you have to admit, the old fashioned “techs” were the cutting edge of their time, too.

All that being said, the latest edition to the latest franchise of “Planet of the Ape” serial is a high-tech, Indians and soldiers, good versus evil battle that will either end in the total destruction of the apes or in their freedom and peaceful existence away from man. Your bob is to find out which it will be.

Everyone who has followed the new millennium reboot of the iconic “Apes” tale knows all of the players – everyone, I think, sympathizes with Caesar and his loyal lieutenants in their plight against man. As is the norm, the filmmakers added a couple of new characters – a little, mute human girl soon to be dubbed “Nova” and a frightened little zoo chimp, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) – who join Caesar’s tiny band out to stop Col. McCullough and his murderous plan of extermination.

The franchise has reached the level where the story is a hash of other films, including Harry Potter and any western that takes the side of the Indians. I give it a B.
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