Movie Reviews: War for the Planet of the Apes; The Beguiled; Cars 3

Three great movies to look forward to this week, reviewed by Declan Burke

War for the Planet of the Apes ****

The Beguiled ****

Cars 3 ****

Primitive and civilised primates clash again in War for the Planet of the Apes (12A), although the final chapter in the trilogy asks the audience to consider who the more advanced animal might be: Caesar (Andy Serkis), the evolved chimpanzee battling to save his fellow apes from extinction, or The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the human who has vowed to wipe out Caesar and his kind.

 

After suffering devastating losses in a frontal assault on their forest sanctuary, the apes reluctantly agree to abandon their home for an epic trek to freedom.

Caesar, however, has other plans; fuelled by hatred, driven by a need for bloodthirsty revenge, the great ape resolves to make a final, terrible stand.

Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves, with Reeves, the director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, back on helming duties, War for the Planet of the Apes provides a satisfying conclusion to Caesar’s tale.

Opening with the jaw-dropping action sequence in which the Colonel’s troops spring a savage attack on male, female and infant apes, the movie maintains a relentless pace throughout, although its finest moments are to be found in the quiet lulls between the eruptions of brutal violence.

The burgeoning relationship between the orangutan Maurice (Karin Koneval) and the young mute girl Nova (Amiah Miller), the tenderness between Caesar and his infant son Cornelius (Devyn Walton) and the tragi-comic figure of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), the last survivor of a long-destroyed zoo, contrast sharply with the dehumanized Colonel, whom Woody Harrelson plays as a latter-day Colonel Kurtz, a deranged messianic figure determined to save the human race even it means abandoning all notions of humanity.

Laced with allegorical references to historical persecutions, War for the Planet of the Apes is an emotional affecting tale that sends the trilogy out in no little style.

Set in the Deep South during the American Civil War, The Beguiled (15A) opens with a young girl discovering wounded Yankee soldier Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) in the woods near a girls’ school run by Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman).

Torn between her fear of McBurney and her desire to do the Christian thing, Miss Martha tends to the soldier’s wounds and allows him to recuperate under her roof, only to discover that McBurney has become a disruptive presence as Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) begin to vie for his attention … Sofia Ford Coppola’s remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film of the same name is a brooding, atmospheric affair with all the qualities of a psychological thriller.

Corporal McBurney is a fox loose in the chicken-coop, a charming rogue who preys on the innocence of Miss Martha’s fascinated girls, and his chameleon-like ability to adapt his personality to suit the needs and desires of the girls quickly marks him out as a manipulative menace.

There’s a neat contrast between the idyllic antebellum house overgrown with Spanish moss and the brutality of the war beyond the girls’ tiny Eden, as the rumble of distant cannon-fire echoes the internal rumblings of discontent that jeopardise the order and stability of Miss Martha’s school.

Colin Farrell visibly revels in his role as a silver-tongued sociopath, but to a large extent his character is irrelevant: The Beguiled is primarily a film about women and the intricacies of their relationships.

“I’ll decide when I’m done,” declares Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) as Cars 3 (G) goes up through the gears, a defiant response to his being shunted into early retirement by faster, next-generation cars that have left the former champ eating dust.

 

Coached by a new instructor, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), Lightning goes back to basics, training on the beach and embarking on a long road-trip (via demolition derbies and honky-tonk bars) as he wends his way towards the season-opening race in Florida.

The ‘Cars’ movies have been the least popular of the various Pixar offerings to date, and Cars 3 has the feel of a personal project for executive producer John Lasseter, who executive produces here.

Lightning McQueen might not be as shiny as the new champion Jackson Storm, but Lightning has guts and an admiration for his elders that his younger rivals would do well to respect.

It’s an attitude that transforms the mini-franchise from a rather mind-numbing spectacle of animated cars whizzing around in circles into something rather more profound: Cars 3 is at heart a story about accepting your limitations and the wisdom of age, and knowing when to pass on the baton to the younger generation.

Speaking of which, my nine-year-old chaperone and expert in all things Pixar decided she was giving Cars 3 five stars instead of my four — I’m guessing she didn’t really buy into all that ‘respect your elders’ guff.

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