6. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Reshaping key elements from earlier films to make them more relevant in contemporary times, the second reboot of the series opens strongly and then tails off as it goes. Rise of the Planet of the Apes gives Andy Serkis his third great performance-capture role as Caesar – the moving sequence documenting his formative years is magical, and when he is sent to live in a zoo it is utterly heartbreaking; all of this mostly being thanks to Serkis’ committed work.
Sadly, most of the human characters are dull and one-note – nobody (with the possible exception an empathetic of John Lithgow) are anywhere near as interesting or easy to relate to as a chimp who doesn’t say anything until more than halfway through. This is testament to Serkis’ skill, but also a sign that the rest of the cast’s performances are lacklustre. The plot is reasonably entertaining, with some nice nods to the original Apes films, and the visuals are beautiful, but they did use the same silly premise as Deep Blue Sea to explain why scientists want to make non-humans hyper-intelligent (to cure Alzheimer’s of course), so maybe this wasn’t quite as highbrow as it was aiming to be.
5. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Another Apes film built around a phenomenal performance from Roddy McDowall as Caesar, the sole intelligent ape in a world of humans exploiting his kind as a slave labour force.
The thematic parallels here are a little lazy – this dystopian future is America as Nazi Germany with an ape slave trade thrown in. The script isn’t the best, but it’s considerably better than that of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and gives McDowall a brilliant, almost Shakespearean final monologue. The action is pretty impressive for the time too, in a way you can only get from having loads of extras in costumes charging around and laying into each other. Much of the film was remade into the glossier Rise as a second take on the ape uprising, but there’s certainly something about this one; visceral and appealingly rough around the edges.
4. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
A grand finale if there ever was one.
Referencing everything from Apocalypse Now to Lord of the Rings, this is a grand and complex conflict epic that puts its faith in nature balancing out mankind’s seemingly endless stupidity. Even after the world as we know it has ended, man finds an excuse to keep fighting and the normally peaceful Caesar has just about had enough.
As well as the photo-real apes traversing alpine forests and snow-capped peaks, look for stand-out performances wracked with pain from Serkis and Woody Harrelson, and a tragicomic turn from Steve Zahn as the parker-wearing abuse survivor Bad Ape. War for the Planet of the Apes has action, scale and spectacle in spades, not to mention closing this chapter of Caesar and his kin’s story in tear-jerking fashion.
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