starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller
written by Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves
directed by Matt Reeves
by Walter Chaw There are two problems that plague War for the Planet of the Apes. The first is that this far along into a franchise, it becomes a real burden to deal with the lore of eight (is it eight?) previous instalments; the second is that Rise... and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, this sequel's two immediate predecessors, are so subtle and intelligent that there's a real danger now of being too "on the nose" in trying to keep up with them. That co-writer/director Matt Reeves is able to wrangle both tigers to the extent that he does speaks to his skill. That he's not able to entirely avoid a mauling speaks to the near-impossibility of the task. What was before an elegant parable of race and tribalism, dehumanization and Turing empathy tests, is now well and truly a blockbuster franchise product. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it's obvious, transitioning from a very fine, elegiac western like a late Ford or an any-time Anthony Mann into, by the end, first a broad and winking take on Apocalypse Now, then a carefully-narrated Moses allegory. Consider a moment where the ersatz Kurtz, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), speaks to our chimp hero Caesar (a motion-captured Andy Serkis) about the cost of vengeance and the sacrifices made during war that allow him to paint himself as Abraham even as he transitions into Pharaoh. Everyone's fantastic in the scene; the problem is that its expository payload is mainly meant to set up the Charlton Heston film that started it all. Too, it confuses the characters of its parables in such a way as to suggest, uncomfortably, a connection between Jews and their persecutors, and a concentration camp/Egyptian slave narrative involving the persecution of apes for cheap labour only adds to the confusion. Oh, also, they're building a wall that Caesar calls "madness" that will solve nothing.