War of the Planet of the Apes (2017) ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The first cycle of five Planet of the Apes films in the 1960s and ’70s was pretty good; the first one was an instant classic and the others told a provocative, fascinating alternate future history.  Now a trilogy of films resetting the tale around super-intelligent ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) concludes with War of the Planet of the Apes, and it is even better.  After Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), War depicts the final battle between apes and men, as well as men against men, for the dominance of the Earth.

Matt Reeves’ film is so firmly supportive of the apes that one cannot help but root against the humans.  This was not true of the first cycle, which still explored the situation largely from the human perspective, but times have changed.  These apes, led by brilliant Caesar and wise Maurice (Karin Konoval) and brave Rocket (Terry Notary) deserve to rule the world.  They only battle when attacked, keep no secrets from one another, live in true community and respect nature instead of trying to conquer it.  This film masterfully reverses the story polarity, depicting how humans should change before the inevitable apocalypse arrives; it is commentarial science-fiction of the most absorbing and thoughtful variety.

I love how the film develops and proceeds without haste, allowing the conflicts to fully mature and engage, and how personal the story becomes, for both Caesar and his human adversary, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson).  Furthermore, it contains allusions and tributes to the first cycle of films throughout, which I adore even though I don’t recognize all of them.  Twentieth Century-Fox has done a spectacular job with this series, using CGI and motion-capture technology faultlessly with terrific storytelling to create a marvelously re-imagined simian – human future.

So many modern movies don’t know how to do justice to their sources, nor how to elevate familiar elements to a higher level of dramatic potential.  This series has done so consistently.  It probably could have been shortened a bit (it’s 140 minutes long), and perhaps overuses the slow-motion technique, but War of the Planet of the Apes is a fantastic film, one of the finest of the year.  This is what science-fiction can be at its best.  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆.  5 August 2017.

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