The title of War for the Planet of the Apes (Fox, 12), however apt in a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin sort of way, feels a bit behind the curve. Matt Reeves’s robust reimagining of a hairy old franchise already escalated into full-blown war film territory in 2014’s tremendous Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as Andy Serkis’s ultra-intelligent chimp chief Caesar marshalled his simian forces with terrifying, well, force. The domination continues here, on an even grander, doomier, more violent scale. Before you can make your own “ape-ocalypse” pun, the screenplay beats you to it.
Elemental in plot and largely shorn of dialogue, it’s a roaring rush, rendered once more with jaw-dropping technological expertise that you swiftly take for granted as palpable characters emerge from the chilly motion-capture. All that’s missing is the jolting kick of surprise that accompanied the previous film’s wild escalation of tone and formal reach. We now arrive expecting precisely the severe, chest-beating spectacle we get, but there’s no fevered sense of a once-familiar story-world smashed into anarchy. If one can complain only that it’s excellent in precisely the way we anticipated, this reboot is in rude health.
Humanity is getting it from all sides of the animal kingdom this week. On a rather schlockier scale, sharks are a-huntin’ in 47 Metres Down (Fox, 15), a cheerfully ropey enterprise that sees two cage-diving sisters stranded in fin-infested depths. Toothy terror ensues. If, like me, you find unabashed glee in even the most gormless Great White thrillers, proceed without caution, though it’s several leagues under even Deep Blue Sea.
Pair it up with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Lionsgate, 12) for a veritable club sandwich of lovably dumb, pure-hearted junk. Luc Besson’s big, brash space opera fully lives up to the inflated daftness of its title, delivering everything from whizzy galaxy tourism to Rihanna in inexplicable Liza Minnelli drag. It makes nary a lick of sense, but no matter. Besson, once declared a pioneer of the cinéma du look, duly gives us an explosion of matter simply to look at. There’s pop-art beauty amid the chintz.
If you’re looking for something substantial after that full course of cinematic Cheetos, knuckle down to The Work (Dogwoof, 15), one of the year’s most nourishing documentaries. Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous’s simple but ineffably stirring film sits in on the intensive group therapy sessions conducted at California’s Folsom state penitentiary, where the male inmates share their variously hard, dark histories and issues. You’ll never hear Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues the same way again. This is a shattered, shattering mosaic of male pain and damage.
Also moving, if a little more tenderly so, is My Feral Heart (Studio Soho, 12), a British indie powered by the charisma of Down’s syndrome actor Steven Brandon, who plays a capable young man unjustly institutionalised in the wake of his mother’s death. His honest, open performance sees the film through some sentimental pitfalls.
Over to the Netflix scrapheap, which keeps welcoming the unlikeliest arthouse misfits. This week’s happy rescue is Métamorphoses, in which French auteur Christophe Honoré playfully modernises and queers up Ovid’s heaving mythological anthology to surprisingly limber, sexy effect. Not all of it sticks, but this parade of poetry, polyamory and bodily perfection rolls along with eccentric savoir-faire.
Finally, the rerelease of the week is Howards End (Sony, PG). Cannily out in time to show the BBC’s eminently respectable new mini-series who’s still boss, Merchant Ivory’s greatest film still glints with light and wit in this impeccable 25th-anniversary restoration. If you remember it simply as gorgeous drawing-room cinema, take another look. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s scalpel-shaped adaptation doesn’t stint on Forster’s savage politics of class and finance. The result, in 2017, resonates briskly as a parable for Brexit Britain.