On more than one occasion, as I was watching War for the Planet of the Apes, I found myself perilously close to loudly exclaiming something along the lines of: “Will you look at that chimp? That’s a real chimp riding a horse.” Or perhaps: “Christ, a gorilla with a machine gun.” Such is the level of technical achievement on show here, I was closer than I have ever been to literally rubbing my eyes in disbelief.
Much of the plaudits for this really need to go to Andy Serkis and his pioneering work with motion capture technology, from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies to King Kong and Tintin. Serkis has built a reputation as the go-to guy for motion capture and, such is the quality of his performance, he seems to have helped drive technological change and help shape the landscape of modern entertainment.
The thrill of this third in the current Apes trilogy is not purely technical though; these movies have managed to position themselves as both genuinely entertaining and thought provoking. Smart blockbusters with much to say about humanity, Matt Reeves has helped guide a trilogy that has been one of the nicest Hollywood surprises of recent years.
The world of War is a world in which apes are in the ascendancy, albeit somewhat cut off from the outside world, and with humans being pushed to the fringes of society, ravaged by the simian flu that is seeing apes succeed at the expense of man. Channelling Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz, Woody Harrelson is an army colonel who launches an attack on the hidden ape habitat, killing and capturing apes to work as forced labour in a concentration camp. This movie seems to have come along at a fortuitous moment as Harrelson’s Colonel, a leader who fears and loathes the apes, is intent on having them build an enormous wall to keep his men protected from the threat of the outside world.
Putting the viewer in mind of Apocalypse Now, The Great Escape, Schindler’s List and a host of other combat movies, War for the Planet of the Apes touches upon the very best and worst of the human condition, from the indomitable never say die pluck of the oppressed, to the attempted genocide of entire species. It’s a movie that matches technical ingenuity and artistic craft with thematic excellence and insight.
And also, if that isn’t a real-life talking orangutan with a bomb I’ll eat my hat.
Action, sci-fi, Drama | USA, 2017 | 12A | 20th Century Fox Pictures | Dir.Matt Reeves | Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary