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‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ review: An unexpectedly emotional journey

Click to play video: 'Movie trailer: War for the Planet of the Apes' Movie trailer: War for the Planet of the Apes
'War for the Planet of the Apes' trailer – Apr 19, 2017

The third (and allegedly final) movie of the beloved rebooted Apes franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes, is far more of an emotional, schmaltzy and philosophical journey than a gritty, action-packed one, though there is certainly enough to satiate the battle-hungry.

The Planet of the Apes movies cleverly flip the script, making the humans the “animals,” while all the apes want to do is live in peace and raise their families. But humans, as is their wont, can’t possibly compromise or be happy with the status quo and must defeat any super-intelligent apes — especially their de facto leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis) — before they take over the world.

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This time around Woody Harrelson plays the enemy, “The Colonel,” an unstable military man hell-bent on taking down Caesar. There’s also a new illness spreading in humans (no spoilers here!), and he holds the apes totally accountable so nothing will stop him from his mission to eradicate them from the planet.

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War for the Planet of the Apes travels to dark places and, faced with unimaginable tragedy, Caesar has to make some very difficult decisions.

How much of the movie do we spend with the apes?

Given that they’re the far more interesting characters (there are different ape species featured, including an orangutan and a few lowland gorillas), yes, there is plenty of time spent with the apes. Interestingly, a lot of the screen time is dedicated to the apes’ discussion and debate; they’ll often be sitting in a close circle weighing the merits of one action over another. Compare-and-contrast that to the humans in the movie, who resort to knee-jerk actions like shooting before thinking.

It’s safe to say that Caesar is the main character of the film. Endless praise and accolades to Serkis, who once again convincingly brings a CGI creation to life. Caesar’s foil is, naturally, the colonel out to wipe him off the Earth.

Is Woody Harrelson good in the villain role?

You’ve got to hand it to Harrelson, who manages to defy age in this role and look rather buff. He’s got this role down (crazed, paranoid, laser-focused, ruthless) and he seems to be having a great time. Nothing screams bad-ass quite like someone shaving their head bald with a straight razor, right?

While some aspects of his character seem inconsistent — for example, he gives Caesar ample time to explain himself instead of just ending things then and there. Why do villains constantly do this? For the most part, he provides the necessary evil to propel the film. Bonus points for his biceps; 55-year-old men are probably scouring the internet for Harrelson’s exercise routine right about now.

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In the trailers, I saw a lot of clips featuring a little girl. Who is she?

The little girl (whose name I won’t reveal here, there’s a cute backstory behind that) is found by the apes as they make their way through the wilderness to reach the humans. The trailer is slightly misleading in that she doesn’t play that big a part. For that matter, neither do the majority of the female characters (all two of them). The trailer makes it seem like the little girl is crucial to the movie’s plot. She’s not, but her presence creates a softness in Caesar and the other apes, probably to ensure the audience “gets it” — that the monkeys are inherently good.

You say “schmaltzy” and “emotional.” What do you mean?

The movie is jam-packed with father-and-son clichés, earnest speeches about friendship and belonging and painfully obvious metaphors about contemporary society. This reviewer wasn’t prepared for so many heart-to-hearts; they take up quite a big chunk of screen time. If you’re a die-hard fan of the mythology of Apes, then this’ll be right up your alley tree, but for the others, prep yourself for much introspection and contemplation.

In contrast, there are also echoes of our current real-world situation throughout the movie, with unsettling internment camps for the apes, mistreatment and torture. The battle scenes are easily the most engrossing, but they’re usually wedged in between two low-key, pensive scenes. The result is a jarring back-and-forth between urgency and stagnancy.

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So what’s the bottom line?

For Apes fans, this movie will deliver what you’re looking for: great villain, Caesar at his most dedicated, a few twists and a final “big” moment at the end. There’s enough action to keep you engrossed, but be prepared to sit through a bunch of conversations and expositions between CGI apes, a little girl and a colonel. Oh, and if subtitles aren’t your thing (for the ape talk), you might want to consider another movie.

The scariest realization brought by the film, as it was with its predecessors, is that at no time do you want the humans to emerge victorious.

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ opens in theatres across Canada on July 14.

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