If you haven't been following the Planet of the Apes timeline, it started with a James Franco-created super-ape named Caesar (played by the ever-brilliant motion capture superstar Andy Serkis, whom you probably know better as Gollum) who became extra-sentient, rounded up a bunch of other apes and then moved into the woods to ape it up and live peacefully. Humans, of course, couldn't jive with this plan, especially since the rise of apes brought with it a horrible virus called the Simian Flu. What few humans remained became understandably bummed, and by the time we catch up with everyone in War for the Planet of the Apes, things have become pretty rough.

Caesar and his pals are holed up in a hidden fortress beneath a waterfall, but this doesn't sit well with The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a Kurtz-esque army dude who's basically gone nuts, defected from the skeletal government and kills or imprisons any ape or virus-victim he comes across. Caesar isn't down, but he's been through the shit already and just kind of wants to move to the desert with his family … y'know, to find himself and maybe take up painting. But when The Colonel just won't let it go, Caesar and his ape pals Maurice, Rocket and Luca set out to even the score and ensure the safety of their kind.

Serkis is, as always, fantastic, both as a voice and motion capture actor, and the CGI of Apes is so phenomenal it's practically indistinguishable from the real thing. Harrelson, however, is underused, showing up only to make jerkish comments and shoot apes now and then. Still, despite a clunky middle section that drags on entirely too long, the battle sequences and subtle nods to cinema do make for a riveting film. Steve Zahn as the comedic Bad Ape kind of makes it worth it alone, even if he diffuses heavier moments before they've had a chance to land. Regardless, the series of reboots (or is it prequels?) brings up some good points about the uglier parts of humanity and how fear can drive the worst of us to commit unspeakable acts. Apes indeed becomes better than one might assume, though unless you were already planning on being there, you can probably just wait and watch it at home.

+ Incredible effects, Bad Ape!
- Lags in the middle, not enough Harrelson


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War for the Planet of the Apes
Directed by Matt Reeves
With Serkis, Harrelson and Zahn
Regal, Violet Crown, PG-13, 140 min.