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War for the Planet of the Apes

Monkey business becomes deadly serious in the third chapter of the rebooted sci-fi franchise. Matt Reeves, who directed the thrilling 2014 instalment Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, retains his position at the helm of this cataclysmic showdown between the last remnants of mankind and genetically enhanced primates, who have collectively weathered the storm of Simian Flu. So much of the picture relies on the latest motion-capture visual effects to translate performances of a gifted human cast into richly textured animal protectors and warriors. The results are jaw-dropping. Time and again, Reeves shoots pivotal scenes in close-up so we can see tears well in the creatures' eyes, or anguish ripple across their brows, as they face the stark possibility of extermination. It's a glittering showcase for Andy Serkis' tour de force portrayal of the leader of the ape uprising, begging tantalising questions about where performance ends and state-of-the-art trickery begins. Everyone has blood on their hands and Reeves' contemplative script, co-written by Mark Bomback, corrupts characters on both sides of the conflict in the name of survival. The only winners, when the computer enhanced dust settles after almost two-and-a-half hours, are audiences who have been on this rollercoaster since 2011 when the ALZ-113 virus ravaged the globe. Twelve years have passed since that outbreak and Caesar (Serkis), his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and their two sons Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) and Cornelius (Devyn Dalton) are living in exile in the woods with the rest of the apes. The outcasts include wise Bornean orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), chimpanzee Rocket (Terry Notary) and brave Western lowland gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). Under the cover of darkness, Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) and his sharp-shooting soldiers stage an assault on the ape stronghold and kill most of Caesar's family. The grief-stricken leader orders the survivors to flee in search of a new home while he exacts revenge on the Colonel. Maurice, Rocket and Luca defy Caesar's orders and join him on the long and arduous trek to locate the military in their mountainside stronghold. En route, they encounter an outcast chimpanzee called Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), who escaped from his zoo enclosure, and an orphaned girl (Amiah Miller), who has been rendered mute by the virus. Maurice becomes a surrogate parent to the child as Caesar continues his quest for retribution. "They must pay," he growls. War For The Planet Of The Apes is a fitting conclusion to several key storylines, which are underscored by composer Michael Giacchino's magnificent orchestral score. Serkis and Harrelson face off in a series of increasingly brutal set pieces that hammer home the senseless loss of life on both sides of the ideological divide. Reeves harnesses impressive technical might without obscuring the raw emotions that course beneath each digitally enhanced frame.