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"WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES"
(2017) (Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Action: A talking chimpanzee sends his troop of fellow apes off in hopes of finding a safer home, all while seeking revenge on the human military man who killed his wife and child.
PLOT:
It's now 15 years since the simian virus decimated humankind and led to the rise of super-intelligent apes and their uprising against humans. The chimpanzee leader of a tribe of them, Caesar (ANDY SERKIS), simply wants to protect the other chimps, gorillas, and orangutans who look up to him for protection and leadership. But military forces working for The Colonel (WOODY HARRELSON) want to wipe out the apes before it's too late and stage an attack that's ultimately thwarted, with Caesar sparing the lives of the few military men left, such as Preacher (GABRIEL CHAVARRIA).

Unbeknownst to Caesar, however, one of his own, the white gorilla Winter (ALEKS PAUNOVIC), turns sides and informs the humans about the location of the chimp's tribe. That leads to an attack by the Colonel and his men, ultimately resulting in that military officer killing Caesar's wife and son before managing to escape Caesar's wrath.

Knowing more humans will be arriving and having learned of a new potentially safe haven, Caesar sends his tribe off on a quest to find that place. But he does not go along, what with seeking revenge on the Colonel. Despite wanting to do that alone, he's eventually joined by the wise orangutan Maurice (KARIN KONOVAL), gorilla Luca (MICHAEL ADAMTHWAITE) and chimpanzee Rocket (TERRY NOTARY).

Along the way, they end up finding a young orphaned girl, Nova (AMIAH MILLER), and then a former zoo ape, Bad Ape (STEVE ZAHN). He's been on his own for a long time and may know the location of the Colonel's military compound where the human soldiers are accompanied by apes that have sided with them, such as the gorilla Rex (TY OLSSON). From that point on, Caesar and his small group seek out and find the Colonel, but must contend with some of them being taken prisoner.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
If I told you that the summer's best film -- and one of the best of all of 2017 so far -- starts off like a western, segues into a POW camp escape flick and stars talking apes as the good guys and humans as the villains, you might be inclined to think I'm hallucinating from too much heat, sun, and sunscreen fumes.

While that might sometimes be the case when recommending something beach-related while in such environs, the high recommendation I'm delivering for "War For the Planet of the Apes" comes after sitting through the completely engaging, moving, thought-provoking and exciting film in a dark and air conditioned theater. Yes, it's that good and it would be a shame if this is overlooked come the winter season's award season time simply due to its main characters being partially computer-generated.

It's the last part of the trilogy reboot of the original "Planet of the Apes" movie franchise (completely ignoring the Tim Burton/Marky Mark version) that began with 2011's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and continued with "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" three years later. And it takes up a number of years after the conclusion of that terrific offering.

The human population is still decimated by the simian flu that -- if it doesn't kill you -- leaves you mute and knocks your IQ down a number of notches (a nod, one of several, to the original "Apes" flick from 1968 where Charlton Heston's character crash landed on the planet and found similar humans).

And thus a number of folks -- seeing not only their mortality but also their place on the top of the food chain being bumped down -- want to wipe out the apes before it's too late. And one of them -- a military officer played by Woody Harrelson -- is also operating from a personal vendetta, something we learn more than halfway into the 140-some minute film.

His actions then result in the de facto leader of the apes, Caesar (once again played to perfection via performance capture by Andy Serkis, and once again deserving of some Oscar and other award love), seeking out his own familial revenge against that man. All of which turns the film into a western of sorts where killings in a family lead to a revenge quest that features, among other genre tropes, a young orphan girl (Amiah Miller) and a skittish older character (an Oscar-worthy Steve Zahn) who's part nervous nelly comic relief and part "Oh no" wily veteran of life.

Yet, just when you accept that you're watching a classic western featuring talking apes, returning director Matt Reeves -- who co-penned the screenplay with Mark Bomback -- then turns the flick into the equivalent of a WWII prisoner of war escape offering, complete with the standard conventions of that genre. Thankfully and beyond that transition occurring seamlessly, this new story direction works just as well as what preceded it.

And speaking of seamless, the special effects are just that and a prime example of how to do and use FX in a big studio tent pole movie (as compared to the garish and in your face work in the latest "Transformers" movie). You'll swear the ape characters are real, breathing beings, all of which only serves to help make them -- and their personal stories -- all the more engaging.

The brilliance of the film is that it works so well on various levels. Those simply wanting a popcorn munching bit of escapism at the movies will enjoy the action. Those looking for something deeper in terms of thematic material will find that in spades. And those who are fans of the series will likely view this as a superb finale to what's arguably one of the best trilogies ever put up on the screen.

I never expected much from any of these films, what with having sat through the Tim Burton version and seeing no reason to mess with the original Charlton Heston masterpiece. But with each subsequent installment they have gotten better and this last one is undeniably the best, with the icing on the cake being how it wraps back around and connects to the 1968 film. "War for the Planet of the Apes" rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed June 21, 2017 / Posted July 14, 2017


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