Serious monkey business

Updated: 2017-07-14 05:58

(HK Edition)

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Rarely do trilogies work the way they should. The original Star Wars trilogy did a fine job of wrapping up its narrative to a degree, but as we've seen, starting in 2015, there was room for more after the last Ewok dance happened on the forest moon of Aftermath: Empire's End or in Return of the Jedi. The need for Hollywood studio tent poles and properties for filmmakers to mine again and again (Infernal Affairs, the forced threesome of The Hobbit films) mean nothing is ever over. All things considered, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs was probably the last time a trifecta of films told a truly complete story.

It's safe to add the recent reboot of Planet of the Apes to that list. Starting with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 and continuing with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, the last entry, War for the Planet of the Apes, is the perfect capper to a fully rounded story. The lead shows a strong character arc and the film says more about humanity than anyone could have expected when the first entry was released. The series also features some astounding motion capture performances - and ridiculously cool monkey mayhem.

Ape general Caesar had superior intelligence foisted upon him in Rise, and leadership in Dawn. In War, Caesar (motion capture specialist Andy Serkis, making a case for awards consideration) is left to contemplate what makes us human, what constitutes community and how to reconcile the two. Make no mistake, there is no war as we know it in War: it's a war of ethics, conscience and morality.

The action this time revolves around Caesar's dual quest of a new home for his tribe, and a final, lasting peace between ape and man. After a brutal opening sequence that harkens back to Vietnam War actioners, the apes find themselves persecuted by the genocidal colonel (Woody Harrelson). When the mysterious military man rejects Caesar's overtures for peace, it becomes a race between escape for the apes and extermination by man. Along the way, Caesar finds himself seeking vengeance before finally being forced to choose between personal satisfaction and the greater good.

There are a million references in War recalling Exodus - cleansing floods and personal sacrifice among other allegories. Anyone with a passing knowledge of mythologies - Biblical or otherwise - will know where this film is heading by the 40-minute mark. But that does little to temper the story's impact as the final chapter in a longer saga, which is also loaded with dead serious moments of pathos and emotionalism: the wisdom of Maurice (Karin Konoval), the sacrifice of Luca, the terrified duality of human collaborator Donkey and Koba's haunting of Caesar's memory. Newcomer Steve Zahn's Bad Ape is particularly heartbreaking as a lone survivor who's clearly been damaged by the war. Assuming you've seen the first two, War for the Planet of the Apes is the kind of summer franchise machine that can restore audiences' faith in glossy, blockbuster filmmaking. Let's hope they leave well enough alone.

Serious monkey business

(HK Edition 07/14/2017 page10)