War for the Planet of the Apes

Hail Caesar!

In a time when most CGI-heavy movies are content with dazzling slow pre-teens out of their allowances and give little thought to plot or emotion, a film like this is a wondrous thing to behold.

The rebooted, “modern” Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has always been a cut above your usual multiplex fare, but this one tops them all. It even works as a stand-alone.

Writer/director Matt Reeves has here fashioned an enthralling and astonishing cinematic experience that’s exciting as well as involving, and actually seems shorter than its longish 2:20 run time.

Motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis outdoes even his own previous performances (Gollum in Lord of the Rings) as simian revolutionary Caesar, the film’s leading ape. A scenery-chewing (in a good way) Woody Harrelson is truly scary as an isolated and demented army colonel (“The horror, the horror”) bent on wiping out apekind. Steve Zahn supplies the comic relief as a timid zoo escapee called “Bad Ape.” And mention must be made of young Amiah Miller, who conveys much without uttering a word.

This is a complex and memorable film that’s emotionally intelligent and addresses questions of good vs. evil, yet still manages to be wildly entertaining. It’s a thriller that asks us to think. And as a jaded film critic, I was surprised at how many times the film surprised me. (140 min)