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Film review: War for the Planet of the Apes

MANILA, Philippines – As the third installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot series (following Rise and Dawn), the War for the Planet of the Apes is a more than fitting coda to the one ape character who has been the driving light behind the reboot — Caesar (Andy Serkis). As directed and co-written by Matt Reeves, the “war” in the title is as much about the war within, the internal conflict, that besets Caesar; as it is about the external manifestation of physical warfare and/or armed conflict.

Plot-wise, there really isn’t anything that new — it’s Caesar leading the simian community to their version of the Promised Land; and the main obstacle in this installment comes in the person of Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) and his private army. Inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and that film’s own inspiration, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, there are several overt references to those two sources — none more telling than how Harrelson makes his portrayal very Kurtz-like, and the graffiti of “Ape-ocalypse Now.” That kind of gallows humor is one of the new elements in this outing.

Woody Harrelson as Colonel McCullough in a scene from the film

In fact, it would seem the new ape character, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) has been brought into the picture precisely to provide levity to the grim proceedings. An escapee from a zoo, he has lived like a hermit since the Simian Flu outbreak, and his shtick and guarded cowardice are wonderful sources of humor. The interconnections to the bigger Apes Universe should make avid watchers of the franchise giddy with excitement — one example being the arrival of a very young mute human girl (Amiah Miller) who eventually takes on the name of Nova.

With a story that is morally complex, plotted with care, utilizing impressive special effects and throwing us genuine shafts of bright humor, War for the Planet of the Apes does it best to give us a rousing conclusion to the Caesar story. As to whether it signals the end of this reboot series, I understand there are plans to create a fourth installment.



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