The dispiriting irony of this latest series of Apes films in that it trades so heavily on nostalgia for one of the greatest science-fiction stories ever realised that it so desperately hopes you haven’t seen.
A favourite trope of fantasy and Simpsons fans alike the world over, the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes has deservedly pervaded popular culture for both its campy aesthetic and vociferous, fantastical take on the prevailing political movements of the time. Fast-forward four decades and all we have left is the founding premise of the Charlton Heston classic devoid of it’s central conceit – the all-encompassing moral quandaries of the original traded for a few largely forgettable action sequences and a revolving door of performers who could be deployed better in almost any other franchise.
With Rise of the Planet of the Apes packing a few of the original’s more light-hearted, ironic trademarks as we find ourselves counter-intuitively cheering for the fast-evolving simians, it’s follow-up and the latest in the series to boot bear little beyond the occasional thrill of watching Apes increasingly engage in decidedly human methods of combat against cavalcades of guerrilla (forgive me) forces.
In the third instalment, after what is admittedly a thrilling opening sequences as the motley crew lead by Caesar (Andy Serkis in fine form as always) fend off an incursion, the band of now ever-evolving mammals encounter the threat of a rogue Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson in a central role that laden with expository bluster and moments which will play better in a promo than in any sequence never reaches the philosophical nor agitative depths of the oft-analogized Colonel Kurtz.
Too continuing the tradition of reducing the implications of the original’s now infamous ending and the still compelling evolution of the classic’s simian-human pairing to an overly-simplistic story gimmick here made explicit with the introduction of a new symptom of the fatal ‘virus,’ the entrance of one human character for the keen-eyed fan will doubly elicit a gasp and groan for those enamoured with the earlier, more considered treatment of the subject matter.
While it is not unappealing to watch an Ape lock and load nor, in the film’s one thankful moment of levity, disarm an opponent using less than traditional means, the only truly redeeming feature of this chapter is Serkis and the evidenced advances in visual effects which have come so far to better capture hitherto unseen phenomena in film. I say one moment of levity because the inclusion of Steve Zahn as ‘Bad Ape,’ an occasional stab at comedic appeal, is as woefully misjudged as some of War’s abrupt plot-developments that deluge a movie only sparingly salvaged by laudable motion capture technology that unlike so many elements of this entry deserves inclusion in future, better films.
War for the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now