PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Here’s to yet another explosion of escapism about ape-ism.
And it’s the best one yet.
If you’re looking to write a rulebook for How To Manage a Franchise Trilogy, look no further than the latest Planet of the Apes installment, War for the Planet of the Apes.
Because this threequel is not only a superb conclusion to the trio of Apes films, but stands on its own as a mesmerizing, exemplary motion picture that manages to be fascinating, exhilarating, and moving.
In short, it does everything right.
War for the Planet of the Apes follows 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as part of a trilogy that started off just fine and still got better as it went along.
That is, Rise was solid, Dawn was terrific, but War is magnificent.
True, there was a lot for War to live up to, but it more than makes its case as the top dog in a rebooted franchise.
Beautifully shot, smartly edited, inspiringly scored, and with a heart-wrenching finale that satisfies, War wins the battle, and the war, in its determination of which species will be dominant on Earth.
Matt Reeves (The Pallbearer, Cloverfield, Let Me In), who also directed Dawn, works from a great script, set ten years after Dawn, that he co-wrote with Mark Bomback.
It picks up at a point at which the genetically evolved apes have suffered devastating losses in their war against humans and rebel leader Caesar, played once again by Andy Serkis, who, wrestling with his darker instincts, embarks on an uphill quest of vengeance in the name of his fallen companions.
Leading the humans in this war against apes is The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, and what transpires as the narrative unfolds is packed with Holocaust imagery.
Rooting interest is handled in a thoughtful, sophisticated way, with no shortcuts or easy answers resorted to in terms of heroes and villains.
But what continues to amaze throughout as the film encourages and even assures the suspension of disbelief is the astonishing level of realistic detail and emotional nuance at which the ape characters are operating.
We now pretty much take the motion-capture process for granted, but in this case the technicians have pushed the boundaries so far, the level of realism is uncanny: we have to keep reminding ourselves that those are human actors up there, so absolutely do they seem like performing animals.
First among equals is Serkis, who gives an amazingly expressive and empathetic performance as we all hail Caesar. Let the arguments about whether a motion-capture performance like this is Oscar nomination-worthy commence.
Mention should also be made of Steve Zahn, whose Bad Ape is a winning supporting character and a form of smooth, effective comic relief throughout a decidedly dark drama.
So we’ll go ape with 4 stars out of 4 for the riveting, extraordinary, and expertly crafted War for the Planet of the Apes, a scintillating simian sci-fi epic about gorilla warfare.