Greg Eichelberger reviews "War For the Planet Of the Apes"

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

According to its Rotten Tomatoes synopsis, this film, the third chapter of the critical and popular blockbuster franchise (following "Rise Of the Planet Of the Apes" and "Dawn Of … ") , Caesar (voice of Andy Serkis, "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens") and his ape army is forced into a deadly conflict with a a group of human soldiers led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson, "Wilson"). After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
"As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet."
Well, that explains some of the film, but there is so much more to talk — or in this case — write about. To begin with, as a third installment, this is one of cinema's best (certainly better than such infamous no. 3 versions such as "Superman III," "Star Wars: Return Of the Jedi,""12 Rounds 3: Lockdown,""Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective,""Home Alone 3,""Dumb and Dumber, Too," "The Addams Family Reunion"and, of course,"Rocky III").
Here, as explained earlier, in this reboot (to be fair, Tim Burton's 2000 effort was a one-off flop at its best) series, Caesar and his minions are stumbled upon by a heavily-armed military squadron, barely fending off the attack, but losing three score of their kind. After releasing the human prisoners (and one traitorous gorilla) to return to their leader, the "colonel" (he is not referred to by any other name) sneaks into the lair and kills Caesar's wife and oldest son — so now it's personal.
"I did not start this war," the great ape intones several times during the production. "I offered them peace and mercy. I only fight to protect apes." And as poetic as these words are, Harrelson's character seems to have little motivation other than his hatred for monkeys (the life form, NOT the mid-1960s prefabricated pop group).
Unfortunately for the simians, he is backed by several hundred violent and armored soldiers, so while the rest of the clan seeks the safety of a desert, Caesar, the gorilla Luca (voice of Michael Adamthwaite, TV series, "Ninjago: Masters Of Spinjitzu," whatever THAT is), orangutang Maurice (voice of Karin Konoval, "The Magicians" TV series), and Rocket (Terry Notary, who played Kong in "Skull Island"), follow the troops on horseback from a distance.
Along the way, they kill a human deserter and then find out he has a daughter (her name in the movie is Nova —from the first very first film in 1968, but let's just call her "Newt"), played by Amiah Miller ("Lights Out"). And then introduces one of the more memorable characters in this franchise, "Bad Ape" (a cross between Gollum and Rain Man voiced by Steve Zahn,"Dallas Buyers Club" and a voice in "The Good Dinosaur," but perhaps best known as the goofball guitar player in Tom Hank's "That Thing You Do").
When Caesar is finally captured—and you knew he WOULD be eventually— it is revealed just why the colonel is brutally psychopathic, and while it does not justify the means and ends of his actions, it does explain a few things. Nevertheless, the ape general is beaten and tortured by another violent gorilla in a facility where hundreds of apes — including his baby son, Cornelius (get it?!) — are imprisoned and forced into slave labor. Here, there are not-so-subtle references to Pres. Donald Trump and his border wall while Caesar tries to figure out an escape plan.
Finally, the conclusion, which one would figure will be the final simian-human showdown of this series, although there just might be a few curveballs thrown in.
Directed by Matt Reeves, who has impressed previously with "Dawn Of… " and "Let Me In" (he also was the Executive Producer of the terrific "10 Cloverfield Lane") and scripted by Reeves and Mark Bomback ("Dawn Of…" and "The Wolverine," among others), "War For the Planet Of the Apes" does not fail to impress, whether its visually or emotionally.
The special effects (supervised by Dan Cevin, "The BFG,""Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice") are seamless and amazingly intricate, especially the apes facial and body technology are incredible.
Meanwhile, Michael Seresin's ("Dawn Of …,""Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban") fantastic cinematography takes us from dark forest enclaves; high, snow-swept mountaintops; vast deserts and beautiful lakefront vistas. He also utilizes dramatic close up shots and horrific war and battle scenes to complete the near masterpiece.
As for the acting, Serkis' Caesar is as real and heartbreaking as any human character could ever be and multi-Oscar-nominated Harrelson is brilliant in one of the more unsympathetic roles in recent history. Both characters are a revelation.
To this scribbler, "War For …" is a terrific third effort, certainly not as compelling as part two of this franchise (and NOTHING could top the original 1968 version with Charlton Heston), but is nevertheless a fine production on its own.
Grade: B