If the first “new” Planet of the Apes movie was an origination story, think of this as the “Empire Strikes Back” of the proposed trilogy.
Caeser (Andy Serkis) has created a genetically modified simian society based on, “Ape shall not kill Ape”, in the forest above a decimated San Francisco valley. All is well, “Caeser” has a son “Blue Eyes” (Nick Thurston), who he teaches to hunt and a “wife/partner” who bears him further children.
Humans, even if they exist, remain far away, until this largely idyllic co-existence is shattered when a small human party interact with the Apes by mistake. The humans are searching for a Hydroelectric power source which unfortunately resides close to the Ape village.
“Caeser’s” authority over the ape colony is largely complete although his rival “Koba” (Toby Kebbell) has a desire to challenge the status quo and question Caeser’s “human leaning” tendencies.
Realising that resisting the Human’s request for access to the dam will only cause war, “Caeser” accepts the entreaties of “Malcolm” (Jason Clarke). This brings in a small team for limited access, including partner and nurse “Ellie” (Keri Russell), her son Alex (Kodi Smit-Mcphee) and requisite hot head “Carver” (Kirk Acevedo) to make trouble.
When events later spiral out of control, misunderstandings, jealousies and ambition drive the two groups to fight a war neither can win.
It goes without saying that whilst actor names are used above, they appear digitally following detailed motion capture recording their movements and facial expressions. The technology leaps forward again from the previous film, with seamless effects existing only to help tell the story, more a tool than providing any “wow, look at me” Transformer type factor.
We are undoubtedly at the point where audiences just accept virtual characters exist, interacting seamlessly with other actors and real environments without question, a huge achievement.
For a blockbuster “popcorn” film this is surprisingly intelligent, well scripted and acted. The inclusion of Gary Oldman as de facto leader of the human contingent, adds complexity but arguably it is the screenplay that holds the interest.
There are well handled lengthy rain drenched action sequences but these are arguably not the films theme. The humans failing and propensity to fight, even when there is little left to fight over is placed front and centre, if there any difference between either faction it is gossamer thin. Unlike most conflict movies, it is difficult to know who to root for, a moral complexity not usually present in summer tent pole movies.
The film is lesson 101 on the why and how conflicts emerge. Misunderstanding, lack of communication, with ulterior murky motives whipping up nationalistic interest for petty political power and gain. Yes, these are apes but the themes are very human. There is a sadness pervading the film, events are almost predetermined even those with the will and desire to stop the spiral, have no real control over what unfolds.
The digitised acting is fantastic, the ape movement completely nailed, at least to a casual observer. The opening shot of Caeser’s eyes and warlike command, is something to behold. Serkis proving again he continues to lead the field in this motion capture area. We must be moving towards an Oscar award for best “virtual performance”.
As usual Oldman adds depth to a role that could have become caricature, with Clarke and Russell solid but they cannot compete with the digitised competition.
The anthropomorphism of the apes to the point of real tears plus mum, dad and newly born son all together is perhaps taking it too far. But minor gripes apart, this is confident and intelligent story telling from director Matt Reeves
A solid second entry in the trilogy and cleverly sets up the final act without betraying or abandoning the complex themes involved.
A blockbusting popcorn movie with an intelligent heart, not without spectacle but taking time to explain why and how war can remain inevitable, even when desired by no-one.