“This wall is madness. It won’t save him any more than it will save you.” No, not a soundbite from Hilary Clinton’s failed election campaign, but a blunt criticism by ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) of a slave-built barricade to protect a rogue colonel (Woody Harrelson) and his paramilitary group Alpha Omega from rival militants who differ in their approach about how to handle a simian flu crisis which is succinctly summarised by Steve Zahn’s Norman Wisdom-esque Bad Ape: “Humans get sick, apes get smart, humans kill apes.”
If it’s pyrotechnics you’re after, jog on. For although director Matt Reeves’ follow up to his Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is bookended with action-packed sequences, the titular war is actually over before you can repeat Caesar’s Alistair Darling-inspired rallying cry “Apes Together”. What follows is less blood and thunder, more hearts and minds, as Caesar and his loyal trio of supporters (Karin Konoval as the orangutan Maurice, Michael Adamthwaite as the gorilla Luca and Terry Notary as the chimpanzee Rocket) seek to avenge the death of his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and eldest child Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) at the hands of The Colonel.
But make no mistake about it, this ninth instalment in the Planet of the Apes franchise is terrific. Five out of five terrific. Visually, it is stunning: epic in scale, yet intimate in its depiction of familial and tribal ties. Equally impressive to the cinematography of Michael Seresin is the score by Michael Giacchino in this his fourth collaboration with Matt Reeves after Cloverfield, Let Me In and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. And the combination of motion capture and CGI special effects by Weta Digital, the New Zealand-based company whose work on Avatar, King Kong and a number of Lord of the Rings films has earned them five Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, is nothing short of breathtaking.
However, for all the special effects, it is the dialogue-light screenplay by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves and the latter’s deft direction which ensure that our attention is gripped for the entirety of the two hours plus VAT running time. Sure, it may not stir the emotions as much as its predecessor, but it still packs a punch. Especially in the head-to-head duels between The Colonel and Caesar during which they realise that they have far more in common than what divides them. And the obvious parallels with the Middle East – the constant bombardment, the disregard for human life, the long lines of men, women and children fleeing their homelands in search of refuge – is a stark reminder of the futility of war.
Video courtesy of: 20th Century FOX