It may not have the glossiness of Marvel, the regality of Star Wars or be the blatant ATM that is now Pirates but steadily the Apes franchise is developing into the most interesting. Of course, it has the effects and the spectacle, it also has a strong hard sci-fi story line plus thoughtful writing.

The opening half, save for a forest battle between apes and humans, is almost entirely set within the ape community that is now in the forest, following the events of the last film. Scouts have gone forth and found what they see as a new homeland. As Caesar (again played by Andy Serkis) and his council consider their options they are sneak attacked this time led by The Colonel played by Wood Harrelson. Caesar suffers a double tragedy. The community move off towards the new home while Caesar sets off on a mission to kill his human adversary The Colonel.

En route they encounter a little mute girl, a talking circus ape called Bad Ape, played by Steve Zahn, both of whom join the group. Eventually they find the human camp, and see the appalling scenes of their captured and enslaved group. The camp is in the process of being fortified by the apes but not against them. The remaining humans are in a state of civil war, as the virus has mutated, creating a schism between them.

Caesar is caught and dragged before The Colonel during which they get the measure of each other and things start to come together. The Colonel is a complex character driven by cold hard logic to do the most horrific of things, but there’s no sympathy. To say much more would really spoil things suffice to say there are revelations, escapes and battles. Ape geeks will go a bundle on this film with numerous key references strewn throughout.

The realisation of the apes is impressive to say the least and has markedly moved on from the previous film in particular the fur and the eyes. The ape community scenes are sensitively directed by Matt Reeves and are emotionally involving and entirely believable. Leaving aside the motion capture, which just complicates matters, Serkis as Caesar gives an astonishing performance of grace, menace and power, as he broods and scowls, visibly aging as the film progresses.

Zahn as Bad Ape is every bit as good. Bad Ape is an interesting addition; his time in the circus and his treatment has stripped him his true nature, forcing him to adapt to his surroundings. He is both tragic and amusing and brings another dynamic to the ape story.

It’s possible to look at this as an allegory with the vast movement of apes between territories, their capture and the holding camps. It also has a touch of the classic western and POW war films with Caesar and his group riding off posse style, and the mass escape scenes. This writer also detected something biblical about Caesar and Maurice on a summit, under a tree towards the end.

Matt Reeves as director and one of the writers has done his homework by looking back to go forward, this is after all a prequel. Away from the nerd factor he’s posited a few questions that bear some examination. If none of that is of interest it is also a fantastic adventure film.