Go­ing ba­nanas for Apes

No more mon­key­ing around! This re­booted fran­chise gets it right with third in­stal­ment

The Barrie Examiner - - ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS KNIGHT POST­MEDIA NEWS Woody Har­rel­son, right, leads the hu­man army against their ape ad­ver­saries in War for the Planet of the Apes, the third film in the re­booted sto­ry­line. SEC­TION D

Does any­one re­mem­ber how bad The Planet of the Apes once got? Af­ter the mind-bend­ing 1968 orig­i­nal — Charl­ton He­ston yelling “You blew it up!” — came a hor­rid se­quel (Be­neath the Planet of the Apes) that had fans say­ing the same thing.

Then, the not-as-bad Es­cape from the Planet of the Apes, where in­tel­li­gent chim­panzees came to our world. But it all got pro­gres­sively sil­lier, cul­mi­nat­ing in a short-lived TV series that was even­tu­ally edited into Satur­dayafter­noon movies with names such as Life, Lib­erty and Pur­suit on the Planet of the Apes. It was as if the series had taken to throw­ing fe­ces at the au­di­ence.

War for the Planet of the Apes, third in a re­booted sto­ry­line that be­gan in 2011, fol­lows a more sat­is­fy­ing, Dar­winian course. Each new film in this series is as good as if not bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sor. They adapt. They evolve. I’ll even for­give the poo-fling­ing joke in this one, given that it’s per­fectly timed, well aimed and pretty darn funny.

War picks up not long af­ter the events of the pre­vi­ous film, which saw bat­tles be­tween hu­mans and apes but, no­tably, treach­ery and al­tru­ism from all the species in­volved. We al­ready know hu­mans can be both kind and cruel. Why wouldn’t our clos­est cousins be sim­i­larly split?

As this one opens, a hu­man army, led by a bald Woody Har­rel­son — there’s some­thing telling in the way a man fight­ing apes chooses to go hair­less into bat­tle — has closed in on the main ape en­camp­ment. The apes’ leader is Cae­sar, once again played by Andy Serkis in a mo­tion-cap­ture suit that has pun­dits and purists ar­gu­ing over whether such dig­i­tal act­ing could ever qual­ify for an Os­car. It’s def­i­nitely a prized per­for­mance.

When mem­bers of Cae­sar’s fam­ily are killed, the ape vows re­venge, and the story, by re­turn­ing scribe Mark Bom­back and direc­tor Matt Reeves, quickly slides into the rhythm of a clas­sic west­ern, with a posse of apes on horse­back track­ing their out­law quarry, with a score to match.

But the film re­fuses to stay within the con­fines of a sin­gle genre. While tech­ni­cally sci­ence fic­tion, there are sec­tions of the story that feel like a Sec­ond World War tale, with pri­mate POWs sur­rounded by watch tow­ers. Or a Viet­nam con­flict drama, the hu­man com­bat­ants wear­ing jun­gle com­bat hel­mets with MON­KEY KILLER or BEDTIME FOR BONZO scrawled on the back, and re­fer­ring to the en­emy as “Kong.” There’s even a dis­as­ter-movie trope that swoops in near the end.

But for all the shifts in tone, Reeves jug­gles pitch and pace to keep the film feel­ing like one con­tin­u­ous, co­her­ent story. And as in ear­lier Apes movies, the fight­ing stays on a de­lib­er­ately hu­man (or apish) scale, never drown­ing out the emo­tional beats. A per­fect ex­am­ple comes near the end of the film, when a flam­ing heli­copter crashes al­most un­no­ticed in the back­ground. Why? Be­cause there are more im­por­tant things go­ing on be­tween simi­ans in the fore­ground.

The series is also no­table for its re­volv­ing cast. Part 1 (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 2011) gives us James Franco as the ge­neti­cist who in­ad­ver­tently cre­ates this top­sy­turvy world, helped by a plague that wiped out most of hu­man­ity, and which took place BE­TWEEN movies. When was the last time an end-of-days story hap­pened en­tirely off-screen? Gary Old­man and Ja­son Clarke headed up the hu­man cast in the sec­ond in­stal­ment (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 2014).

In ad­di­tion to Har­rel­son’s turn as a snarling mis­apethropist, War for the Planet of the Apes in­tro­duces two new char­ac­ters of note. One is Steve Zahn in a mo­tion­cap­ture per­for­mance as a for­mer zoo res­i­dent who calls him­self Bad Ape. Ec­cen­tric and un­pre­dictable, he might just be the best thing in this great movie

The other new­comer is hu­man, a lit­tle girl (Amiah Miller) whose char­ac­ter’s name will res­onate with fans of the 1968 orig­i­nal. In fact, the film­mak­ers drop all sort of vis­ual and au­di­tory clues into the story to sug­gest a kind of full cir­cle with that movie.

There has been spo­radic talk of con­tin­u­ing the Apes fran­chise, but to avoid a rep­e­ti­tion of history, it might be best to stop it with this one. You don’t mon­key around with per­fec­tion. ck­night@post­media.com twit­ter.com/chrisknight­film

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