Caesar and his apes are forced into a deadly conflict with an army of humans led by a ruthless Colonel. After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind. As the journey finally brings them face to face, Caesar and the Colonel are pitted against each other in an epic battle that will determine the fate of both their species and the future of the planet.
Director: Matt Reeves.
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary.
In 2011, we were witness to the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Three years later, the saga continued with the simian uprising in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Now Caesar and his apes are back in the third (& final?) entry of the franchise in War for the Planet of the Apes, and it’s definitely one of the most impressive looking films I’ve ever seen. But the amazing visuals seem to be more important than the story, which works well enough, but makes monkeys out of the humans a lot of the time.
All of the infighting that propelled the narrative in the previous entry has led to Caesar becoming something of a legend as the film begins. But while his continued existence is something that the humans aren’t quite sure of, Caesar is actually trying to live peacefully with the remaining apes in an area seemingly covered up by a raging waterfall. But the humans are still on the hunt for both Caesar and his tribe, and the film opens with the lair of the apes being discovered by a small squad of armed soldiers. A firefight ensues, and some apes are cut down with bullets right where they stand, but Caesar’s troops soon gain the upper hand, and the attacking squadron is soon wiped out. Four surviving humans are found, but rather than have them killed, Caesar sends them back to where they came from with a message to leave the apes alone. Unfortunately, the released humans give detailed information as to where the apes are, and a new squadron of soldiers are dispatched to the area, led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Even worse, The Colonel succeeds in killing Caesar’s wife and son – thus creating the central conflict of the film as Caesar’s quest for revenge nearly transcends his desire to find a peaceful home for the apes.
From this point onwards, the scope of War for the Planet of the Apes becomes smaller as Caesar sets out to get his revenge. Initially he leaves alone, but is soon accompanied by Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary), and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite). The quartet soon come across a young mute girl who they christen Nova (Amiah Miller), and the comic relief of the film, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), whom they discover living alone in an abandoned snow lodge. In the meanwhile, The Colonel has captured all of the apes that Caesar left behind, and he puts them all to work building a wall intended to repel an opposing force. But if all of the surviving apes are already captured, who is the wall intended to keep out? The answer to that is meant to be one of the surprises of the film, but it really isn’t too much of a surprise at all, especially when one considers basic human nature.
As soon as you settle down to watch War for the Planet of the Apes, you’ll find yourselves gobsmacked by the amazing visuals. The previous two films were technical marvels, but they weren’t mounted on a scale as big as this one is. As great as the apes looked previously, there were times in both of the previous films where the use of CGI felt a bit low rent and obvious. There is none of that here, the CGI is absolutely seamless, and (save for one scene towards the end) blends in perfectly with the surroundings. The apes look so photo realistic that there were more than a few moments where I was convinced that the production had spent a fortune on training real simians to appear here. The motion capture work here is so incredible that the academy might as well engrave the title of this film onto next years “Best Special Effects” trophy. As Caesar, MoCap maestro Andy Serkis does the best work of his career here, and director Matt Reeves takes pains to give Caesar’s face as much close up screen time as possible to take full advantage of Serkis’ facial expressions. Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin go the extra mile when it comes to how great this film looks. Although the CGI is prevalent from beginning to end, it feels like the emphasis was placed on the surroundings rather than the acting. It’s truly one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen this year, which is even more amazing when you consider that most of it takes place under the cover of darkness. Additionally, the score (by Michael Giacchino) is one of the loveliest I’ve ever heard. While the central premise of the film is indeed war, you’ll find yourself moved by the beautifully understated music. Actually, a lot of War for the Planet of the Apes takes place without anything but ambient sound. But during scenes when the score begins, you’ll find yourselves immediately moved by whatever’s happening on screen.
The script (by Reeves and Mark Bomback) has echoes of films like Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Great Escape (1963) Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Apocalypse Now (1979). As a matter of fact, while the Colonel’s name is never mentioned, it might as well be “Kurtz’ as his character is essentially a homage to Marlon Brando’s performance in Coppola’s 1979 masterpiece. But while it apes (no pun intended) certain aspects from those films, it falters with some of its characterizations – mainly the humans. Perhaps it’s all by design, but the humans are all pretty much one note, and do things that just don’t make sense, especially considering the situations they find themselves in. While The Colonel and his army gain the upper hand during the middle section of the film, there’s absolutely no doubt that the apes will eventually overcome. But the way they achieve that felt extremely rote, and ordinary. It’s as if the scriptwriters were too busy thinking of scenes where the amazing FX could be highlighted, and put very little thought into anything else (although there are some very nifty little homages to the original Apes films strewn about).
This doesn’t make War for the Planet of the Apes a bad film though – far from it. Personally I think it’s one of the best films of the year, with some great performances, incredibly thrilling set pieces, and FX work that’s second to none. But with a little fine tuning to the script, I would call this the best film I’ve seen all year by far. As it stands, it’s still easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year. I have no idea if this is the final entry of this trilogy, but if it is then Reeves has crafted a near perfect finale that blows up the whole “3rd film in the franchise usually stinks” theorem. It’s an emotional action packed Summer blockbuster that will have you cheering out loud, and quietly sobbing to yourself (you’ll need some tissues, trust me) throughout its running time.
War for the Planet of the Apes – 4.5 out of 5 shrouds.