Motion-captured Serkis steals show as reluctant ape leader battling brutish remnants of humankind in powerful War for the Planet of the Apes
Andy Serkis gives such a captivating performance in War for the Planet of the Apes that you shouldn’t feel ashamed for cheering against your own species.
In his third turn as Caesar the Chimp, the Marlon Brando of motion capture performance demonstrates such depth and range of emotion his computer-generated sentient ape is more character than special effect. His work as Caesar here and Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies demonstrates the possibility of telling sophisticated, challenging stories with digital beings.
In this installment, Caesar is looking for a new home for his fellow apes after one-toomany skirmishes with humans. Thanks to the experiments in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar and his fellow simians are smarter and more civilized than most humans. The remaining bands of people are still dangerous and well armed.
Caesar and a small reconnaissance group return from scouting out a new base only to discover that a rogue human military leader called The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) has imprisoned apes in a massive labor camp. The Colonel and his troops have left the rest of their army behind to set up their own citadel against the apes and against human commanders who want the Colonel to follow their lead.
In most movies, Harrelson’s Colonel would be the hero because he’s fighting for the remnants of humanity. In this environment, however, much of what previously distinguished humans from beasts is gone. Caesar has to weigh whether he and his apes have to be as ruthless as their enemy.
The plot here is a simple prison break. Thankfully, the
conclusion is spectacular without going overboard with explosions. (Note to filmmakers: There are other ways to damage structures.) Perhaps it’s a little too simple, but director Matt Reeves knows how to bring in the ethical debates without the film becoming a sermon on when, if ever, ethics apply to warfare.
Good performances certainly help.
Harrelson doesn’t seem annoyed that he’s playing opposite a CGI ape and plays beautifully off of Serkis with just the right amount of contempt and bile. In addition, Steve Zahn is great as Bad Ape, a whiny, fearful chimp who somehow manages to develop courage when pressure
situations arise. Thankfully there are a lot of those.
Judy Greer has some subtle moments as Cornelia, Caesar’s wife, despite having no dialogue. Young Amiah Miller is terrific as a mute girl who helps the apes make their getaway. (If you’re a fan of the old 1968 Planet of the Apes, you’ll see lots of resonance with that world.) Fortunately, the new movie has enough interesting characters of its own to prevent it from being a dull piece of nostalgia.
It’s ironic that such a human drama should involve talking primates and RPG blasts.
Caesar (a motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis) has grown from a baby raised with love by humans to the reluctant leader of an evolved ape army that might overpower the human race in