Hail, Cae­sar

Mo­tion-cap­tured Serkis steals show as re­luc­tant ape leader bat­tling brutish rem­nants of hu­mankind in pow­er­ful War for the Planet of the Apes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - DAN LYBARGER

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.

War for the Planet of the Apes.

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

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