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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Film review: War for the Planet of the Apes is an appealing new chapter in the saga

Even without a fancy outfit, a cape or superpowers, this movie seems set to break the summer mould to become box office gold

Woody Harrelson channels Marlon Brando in War for the Planet of the Apes. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox via AP
Woody Harrelson channels Marlon Brando in War for the Planet of the Apes. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox via AP

There was always going to be a certain amount of hype surrounding the release of Matt Reeves’ latest instalment of the rebooted Planet of the Apes saga that began with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

The previous instalment, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, had netted over $700 million (Dh2.6 billion) at the global box office, and met with a fair amount of critical acclaim, so expectations for War for the Planet of the Apes were high.

Unexpectedly, however, the movie looks like becoming a yardstick for this summer’s blockbuster fare, following a mixed blockbuster season for the big studios.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 repeated the success of its predecessor – it has currently taken around $850m globally (Dh3.1bn) and garnered widespread critical acclaim. And Wonder Woman and, by all indications, Spider Man: Homecoming have continued the trend.

It appears that if you have a fancy outfit, a cape or some superpowers, you’re likely to become box office gold. Otherwise, the prognosis isn’t good – films such as The Mummy and Transformers: The Last Knight have underperformed as has Will Ferrell’s much-hyped comedy, The House. So what of War for the Planet of the Apes then? Reeves has delivered a slick actioner, full of angst, emotional intelligence and a tight script that, despite many of the characters speaking only in monkey calls or sign language, helps the film’s indulgent two-and-a-half hour run time rattle past.

The film takes up shortly after where Dawn left us – Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his intelligent apes have been decimated in the war with the humans and the survivors hiding out in the forest, while being hunted down by the human army, led by Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel.

Harrelson seems to be channelling Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, from Apocalypse Now, for the role (The Apocalypse Now graffiti that slips into shot at one point seems unlikely to be accidental).

His Messiah complex has led to him to believe he is engaged in a “holy war” for the future of humanity – a conviction that means he intends to eliminate both ape-kind and any humans that disagree with him – and Caesar’s hopes for peaceful co-existence don’t look promising while The Colonel is running the show.

Harrelson’s performance is impressive, but it is testament to both the CGI and the performances of Serkis and co that for large parts of the movie, it’s the ape actors that steal the show.

The tender family bonds between Caesar and his wife and children, and the rage and thirst for blind vengeance that come out in Caesar when his wife and child suffer at the hands of the humans are utterly believable, despite the fur and fat face.

Indeed, every ape actor, from Serkis to the most incidental background chimp, seems to have meticulously studied the mannerisms of their monkey before taking on the task of representing them on the big screen.

The movie has plenty to say about our age, too. We see in this film a humanity gripped by fear, united in hatred of the other, and seemingly hellbent on wilful self-destruction in order to achieve these populist aims.

Without giving too much of the story away, if the film truly is holding a mirror up to life, we, as a species, might like to reconsider some of our recent actions because, on this evidence at least, if we carry on with our current path, our prospects may not be too bright.

War for the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas from July 13.

War for the Planet of the Apes
Director:
Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Four stars