Who would have expected 20th Century Fox’s prehistoric Planet of the Apes franchise to make an emphatic comeback in this day and age? No one. The series shook Hollywood, unexpectedly wrestling its way through this generation of endless crappy reboots to blossom into a critical and financial success, First came Rise, then followed Dawn, and now War of the Planet of the Apes comes full circle to conclude this epic trilogy, giving Caesar’s story a more than fitting conclusion and sending the trilogy to be hailed alongside other extraordinary cinematic three-peats, Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Nolan’s The Dark Knight to name a few.
Two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of genetically enhanced apes have been at war against the humans. As the apes start suffering heavy losses, Caesar grapples with his darker instincts in order to face the evil The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The confrontation will determine the fate of apes, humans and the world.
As technology advances, so does Andy Serkis. At one point in the film, Woody Harrelson’s Colonel even remarks how Caesar’s eyes are starting to become more indistinguishable from a human. He might just have been breaking the fourth wall there. The motion capture pioneer proves yet again why he is the best in the business, putting in another typical jaw-dropping shift of his exquisite craft. The apes and vibrant backdrops of soft snow and lush greenery have never looked better and Serkis matches this unprecedented realism with a dedicated performance, exemplified by motion capture acting bursting with the heart and soul of a fearless ape leader. Someone just give the man his Oscar already!
Caesar’s lieutenants put in equally commendable performances as well with Maurice returning from Dawn, standing out as Caesar’s trusted adviser and moral confidant. Together with a mute human girl they found along the way, the pair work wonders as they provide the emotionally resonant beats of human-ape interaction the trilogy is renowned for.
War also sees the addition of a new ape to Caesar’s team of first responders – an ape with a tragic backstory in a local zoo, Bad Ape played by Steve Zahn grants closure to a burning question the series has asked throughout – whether there are other talking apes, with the only one we know being Caesar. Most of the film’s sharp comedic relief is also courtesy of the newcomer, providing a light-hearted break from the solemn tone the movie sets out to be.
The buzz word in the title is War but it isn’t so big on the war side of things per se. I would have chosen a different title for it if not for an epic sounding finale name for a trilogy. Expectations from the viewers are to be managed as bloodshed isn’t omnipresent from start to end as the title might suggest. Instead, it is the polar opposite. Sure the film opens up with a big guerrilla warfare battle sequence between both sides which is all sorts of mayhem but what comes after and beyond is more of a deep psychological warfare within Caesar and the journey with his comrades for revenge. The lack of a bigger basis for destruction will definitely divide the audience into two; one bored to death and the other still deeply invested in the journey.
Similar to what Reeves and Bomback did in Rise, they combine masterfully again to present a unique blend of action and social commentary. The clever exposition is coupled with critical moments in the film to carve out the true intentions of new characters and add on to complexity of the already fleshed out apes. Protagonists and antagonists alike have big scenes where the choices they make ultimately reveal the true nature of their intentions and in those moments, empathy is achieved on our side as viewers. Layers upon layers are being added to the characters and it forces you to question the moral quandary not only from the ape’s point of view but also the human’s.
For the lack of an all-out war, Reeves does brilliantly with the myriad of subplots which keep the film’s pace on track and more importantly further intrigue the ape’s tumultuous quest for vengeance. Especially compelling is the Koba – Caesar narrative which is told through a comparison of the former’s exclusive inner hatred for The Colonel to his villainous counterpart’s hatred for humans. Caesar isn’t a warmonger. He didn’t ask for war in the first place. But snapping back to reality, he knows the depths he must go to as the ape’s leader to end everything once and for all. This push and pull with the forces of a devil’s advocate in Caesar, coming in the guise of nightmares about Koba demanding him to embrace his inner demons, marks Caesar’s final arc in his story and the inevitable resolution is highly rewarding.
The third film in trilogies tend to be the worst but War for the Planet of the Apes breaks this curse to become arguably the strongest movie among the three films. The focus for this series has always been about the humanity in apes and all the elements which make up the story always work perfectly to evaluate this rarely explored theme. Caesar has come a long way from becoming James Franco’s lab rat in Rise, and War wraps up his saga, leaving behind his legacy and finally ending in an emotionally satisfying manner.
It is … A SPECTACLE
Director: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reevs
Based on: Characters by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn
Running time: 140 minutes
Genre: Science fiction/Drama