Review: War For The Planet of The Apes proves to be a surprisingly bold and brave drama

Andy Serkis reprises his role as as Caesar in War For The Planet of The Apes. Picture: Twentieth Cen

Andy Serkis reprises his role as as Caesar in War For The Planet of The Apes. Picture: Twentieth Century Fox - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Someone has managed to persuade Fox to spend a large amount of money on a summer blockbuster that is predominantly subtitled, has little action despite the title and still manages to be totally engrossing.

Andy Serkis reprises his role as as Caesar in War For The Planet of The Apes. Picture: Twentieth Cen

Andy Serkis reprises his role as as Caesar in War For The Planet of The Apes. Picture: Twentieth Century Fox - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

War For The Planet of The Apes (12A)

****

The War for The Remakes of The Planet Of The Apes has been decided, and the result is a total and glorious victory. Six summers ago the remake of the fourth film in the original series had seemed like a desperate act but it paid off and now, rather than starting to tail off as franchise fatigue set in, this new series has reached a pinnacle with this third installment.

It is bold and brave, a riveting and engrossing drama in a summer where formula, even if it is smart inversions of formula, has dominated.


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Bold? Someone has managed to persuade Fox to spend a large amount of money on a summer blockbuster that is predominantly subtitled. Most of the apes can't speak so communicate through sign language. There are precious few speaking roles and not much dialogue.

War For The Planet Of The Apes with Woody Harrelson as The Colonel. Picture: Twentieth Century Fox

War For The Planet Of The Apes with Woody Harrelson as The Colonel. Picture: Twentieth Century Fox - Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

The title promises War but there isn't much in the way of action either. All of these three films have put their faith in audiences being prepared to sit and follow a narrative.

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The film does occasionally fall back on traditional crowd pleasing moves. The apes adopt a cute mute orphaned girl to tag along with them. They introduce a new character Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who is comparatively hairless and resembles Gollum. He's the comic relief, but with a tragic air, a former zoo animal trying to grow out of his conditioning.

In some ways it is like a sweeping biblical epic with Caesar (Andy Serkis) as their Moses, trying to lead his apes to a promised land, away from the humans. The film has great scope, and real dramatic weight. It feels like a film from 50 years ago, made with modern capabilities.

Serkis always tries to persuade us that there is a real skill to doing this monkey acting. Watching this though I sense that putting on the monkey make up really helps the actors. Trying to read their simian reactions, their exaggerations and distortions of human communication, is enthralling and there are some exceptional performances here, especially Zahn and Konoval.

In the only real human speaking role Woody Harrelson gets to do a pretty good version on Colonel Kurtz (Ape-pocaylpse Now as the graffiti has it) but he is completely overshadowed by the monkey suited performers he is working with.

Probably it was always the case: even in the originals, Roddy McDowell managed to overshadow all the human performers, even though the chimp make-up now looks very primitive.

In the previous part, Dawn, the humans and the apes were jostling for the main role, neither side had grasped possession of the moral high ground, there was good and bad on both sides. The audience followed both sides. Here though we identify only with the apes. Which is quite a subversion; mainstream summer movie often address the end of human civilisation, but few approach it with such death wish enthusiasm.

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