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Thursday, July 13, 2017 12:04 am

Deliberate pace nearly undoes Apes

A scene from War for the Planet of the Apes.


Without question, the special effects on display in the new series of the Planet of the Apes films are phenomenal. Using the latest in digital technology coupled with motion-capture performances, the sense of realism that’s created to bring the movie’s simian characters to life is unnerving and brings a sense of authenticity that the previous entries sorely lacked. I find myself captivated by the results, and though I know how these effects are accomplished, am totally mesmerized by what I am seeing.

This is a good thing where the latest entry, War for the Planet of the Apes, is concerned, as there’s plenty of downtime in which to drink in and appreciate the artist’s craft. As directed by Matt Reeves, who also helmed 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, this is a sprawling, epic undertaking that finds the gorillas in question trying to rally their forces and finally prove themselves worthy of living in peace with the humans that remain. At its core, it’s a captivating story. However, the pacing gets away from Reeves at times, as he takes far too long in the film (sometimes even in individual scenes) to get to the point. In the end, this robs the movie of an ending that should have proved poignant, but instead comes off as a point that viewers are simply happy to finally see arrive.

Picking up directly after the events of 2014’s Dawn, ape leader Caesar (series regular Andy Serkis) hopes that after the hard-earned victory he and his species have won, humans will simply let them be to live in the forest they call home. However, that’s not to be, as a fanatical group of soldiers led by the frighteningly focused Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are intent on wiping all apes off the face of the Earth. They get a good start when they invade the enclave where their enemies are living, killing Caesar’s wife and child in the process. Repelled by the simian warriors, the humans retreat while the apes plan to move to a desert sanctuary where they hope they’ll find peace. Bent on vengeance, Caesar tells them to go, and he tracks down the Colonel and his men, intent on killing them so that they can never harm his followers again.

At this point, the film takes on the feel of a western as Caesar finds himself reluctantly traveling with unwanted allies. The passive orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) as well as the eager-to-please apes Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) all have their reasons for tagging along, and when they pick up a mute human girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and the cowardly, zoo-risen chimp called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the interpersonal dynamics between the characters provide just enough narrative pull before we reach the requisite final battle.

Reeves and co-writer Mark Bomback pull elements from The Bridge on the River Kwai as well as The Great Escape and effectively recast them their needs as Caesar and his followers find themselves held in a horrific work camp under the Colonel’s command. The film’s second act, which shows us their travails, is the film’s most pressing and effective, engaging us emotionally for the explosive climax. The third act is pretty rote as far as blowing stuff up goes, but the final twist concerning the simian flu that started this grand social upheaval two films ago is a corker.

Much like Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny in Unforgiven, Caesar is a creature who’s initially in denial where his true nature is concerned. It’s only after a long, arduous journey and many trails that he’s forced to reckon with who he is as well as what he represents to others. The narrative arc that charts Caesar’s path over the course of these three films has been meticulously thought out and developed and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. I just wish War didn’t take so long to finally get us there.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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