Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrellson
Review Author: Tony
Rating: 4.8/5 bag of cans
Not only has the Planet of the Apes prequels far exceeded everyone’s expectations, now with the third entry it has established itself as one of the best cinematic trilogies ever made alongside The Lord of the Rings, The original Star Wars trilogy, Toy Story and the Dollars trilogy. In a summer where it is evident that blockbusters are consistently dumbing down, director Matt Reeves proves one can make such an intelligent and deeply emotional film that fits in the parameters of a blockbuster.
Fifteen years after the simian flu decimated the human population and two years after Koba’s revolt, the apes and humans are locked into a bloody conflict. Caesar wants no part of this war that he did not start but finds his kind aggressively pursued by a ruthless Colonel hell-bent on their extinction. Pushed to the brink by the events that have come before and ape casualties racking up, Caesar is desperate to get his fellow apes to a safe haven away from the humans. An attack by the Colonel pushes Caesar over the edge who instructs his fellow apes to journey on without him as he hunts for the Colonel. Caesar is reluctantly joined by his most loyal companions, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca, on his vendetta.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the most personal of the films to date as the primary focus of the film’s runtime is Caesar. This is the first time we see Caesar emotionally compromised. One of the best elements of Dawn was Caesar’s unrelenting sense of morals and the importance of showing compassion and mercy. It has made Caesar the prime example of a great leader so it’s heartbreaking seeing his fall from grace as he becomes cold and driven by revenge. It’s a harsh reminder that war corrupts all.
As personal as the story feels the stakes are raised due to the rich history of the series. The story has followed Caesar from infancy, we’ve seen him develop intelligence, become a great leader and now pushed over the edge. Characters such as Maurice and Rocket have been present since the start and each has developed into great characters in their own right. Maurice is Caesar’s source of advice and wisdom and is not afraid to question Caesar’s motives, while Rocket is his loyal right-hand man who will support Caesar’s every decision unquestionably. It’s a tremendous contrast which makes you fully understand the bond between these three characters.
Riveting story, rich history and stellar character development aside, War is a technical marvel of a film. With the best character models seen in any film to date, the motion capture is unbelievable as reality becomes blurred as you witness these talking simians. The motion capture is a surrogate for Andy Serkis and the supporting cast to transform and deliver otherworldly performances. There are so many scenes where an entire conversation takes place without a single word spoken, these actors can convey everything with simple facial expressions. Cinematographer Michael Seresin brings a dark beauty to the film with lush shots of snow-capped mountains, dense forestry, and sprawling landscapes. There’s a thrilling shot from the beginning of the film where the apes appear through the mist on horseback carrying spears and bows that had my heart thumping. Michael Giacchino produces another heart wrenching and somber score and solidifies himself as one of the best film composers alive.
Woody Harrelson channels his inner Colonel Kurtz as the unhinged and driven Colonel. The Colonel is a bloodthirsty man with a strong case of the crazy but Matt Reeves stops him from becoming a cartoon villain by giving a method to his madness. Humanity is on the cusp of extinction and the Colonel believes his cause is to save humanity. Putting oneself in his shoes, many would probably take the same path. If there is just one complaint it’s that the Colonel just doesn’t quite live up to Koba, but considering Koba is one of the best on-screen villains in the last twenty years, it’s not much of a complaint.
The introduction of two new characters, Bad Ape, and a young mute girl brought a lot to the table. Bad Ape injects some much-needed humour without becoming silly but also has a tragic backstory. The young girl is a clever juxtaposition to the general as he represents the darkness and cruelty of humanity where she is a symbol of innocence and a reminder to Caesar that there is still goodness in humankind.
War for the Planet of the Apes is one of the best films in recent memory even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor. Sharp-eyed filmgoers will spot inspirations from films such as Apocalypse Now, Spartacus and Schindlers List. A visual triumph and emotional roller coaster that delivers a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes is a shining example of how much more a blockbuster can be, trading thrills for intelligent commentary.