War for the Planet of the Apes is the final film in the critically acclaimed ‘Modern Apes Trilogy’, following Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Reeves returns once again to the director’s chair, along with motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis as Caesar, leader of the apes. The film takes place roughly two years after Dawn, and follows Caesar as he fights to defend his primate community from a ruthless new enemy: The Colonel (played by Woody Harrelson). Driven by anger, hatred, and a desperation to protect his fellow apes, Caesar attempts to track down the Colonel and end the killing of apes once and for all.
The 9th Planet of the Apes film as of 2017, War joins the likes of Charlton Heston’s original Planet of the Apes (1968) and Tim Burton’s critically disappointing 2001 remake. But In an era of countless reboots, remakes, and sequels, the latest Apes trilogy shines brightly as an example of a franchise that has stood the test of time, excellently using CGI to create lifelike motion-capture apes, while benefitting from well-written screenplays and solid direction from Wyatt and Reeves. The result: A duo of box office successes which also received largely positive reviews from critics. Unsurprisingly, fans of the series will be hoping that War will continue, rather than break, the trend. Some critics have even suggested that the apes trilogy could become one of Hollywood’s best of all time if War is as good or better than its high-flying predecessors. Can Reeves and Serkis turn their bold ambitions into a closing entry everyone will go ape for, or will War fall short of expectations, joining many other ‘third films’ that have come before?
War for the Planet of the Apes ends the trilogy in a satisfying way, with yet another solid screenplay and an excellent performance by Andy Serkis and company. The visual effects are as realistic as ever, while Matt Reeves’ focused direction and the plot’s unpredictability keeps the pacing tight and the viewer engaged. The film may be the best of the trilogy, though there are different viable arguments as to why each of the films should be considered ‘the best’. What is impressive with War (and the whole trilogy for that matter), is how consistent they are with the character of Caesar as well as the emotional changes between films, reflecting the changing environment of their world while staying true to the overall spirit of these set of films. Fans of the Apes franchise and those who have followed this latest trilogy will not want to miss the emotional conclusion to this incredible series.
Andy Serkis’ Caesar is once again the focal point of the story, and is easily the best part of War for the Planet of the Apes. The baby ape we meet from Rise of the Planet of the Apes has grown into a grizzled, battle-hardened war leader, the pain and suffering from the past 15 years visible in his eyes. Caesar’s character arc throughout the series is one to marvel at, which the film’s writers deserve full credit for. Serkis proves once again that he is the king of motion capture, putting in a strong, majestic performance as Caesar. Another great mo-cap performance is by Steve Zahn, who plays a chimp living in isolation that Caesar stumbles upon midway through the film. Zahn plays the role ever so often on the border of silliness, but this somehow ends up being endearing rather than derailing the film’s emotional train. But while we’re still on the topic of great performances, let’s talk about Woody Harrelson, who at first seems like what you’d expect from a cruel, ape-killing big baddie. But in one fantastically-crafted scene, we see that behind his villainous exterior is a compelling backstory that proves just how real the war is in the film. That war is not always fought by two sides, and that there are often no good or bad sides in war, only sides with different perspectives. Having all this in mind is director Matt Reeves, who surprises with a film that is less of an action-heavy slugfest involving apes, and more of a psychological war film. It is for this reason that the film is in many ways a more subdued, nuanced counterpart to its stunt-heavy predecessor Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
While the original Planet of the Apes asked the simple question: ‘What if apes ruled the world and humans devolved into an almost livestock-level organism?’, this modern apes trilogy shows us how our developed human society could reach such a point, as Caesar’s community of apes grow in numbers and intelligence, and thus, power to bring more change to their environment. War for the Planet of the Apes smartly shows how the apes gain increasing levels of humanity, while the humans gradually lose theirs through their never-ending struggle to exterminate all apes. Matt Reeves expertly conveys this message by helping us understand that the primary motive for every action made in the film is truly for the survival of each side’s race. Through his vision, we feel the hope in dystopia, giving us the sense that the apes’ story is approaching its conclusion, bringing with it a megapunch of melancholy.
All these emotions are made significantly stronger by an excellent Michael Giacchino score, taking advantage of high notes to instil an aura of peace amidst the storm of war, a flame in the heart of a blizzard, and hope for the future in the face of overwhelming adversity. That said, the music does not hit 100% of the time, and this unfortunately occurs more in the third act, when the score becomes a tad too light and upbeat, breaking the riveting tension built up over the past hour. Furthermore, a noticeable number of scenes seem to depend heavily on the short-sightedness of the human soldiers, whether it’s the soldiers not noticing the apes tailing them on horseback, climbing close above them on wires, or even waltzing right into their camp unnoticed. This unfortunately develops into quite the ‘dumb security guard’ situation, and for all the film’s efforts to ground the story in reality, it becomes difficult to suspend disbelief that many times. Fortunately, these are minor issues overall, easily overwhelmed by the film’s many strengths.
War for the Planet of the Apes is an entertaining and thought-provoking summer film, featuring amazing visual effects that should see it gain another Oscar nomination, as well as excellent performances all round. Thought it may not be the best of the apes trilogy depending on who you’re talking to, War is the film fans deserve, and will no doubt bring a tear to your eye if you have the time to rewatch the previous two apes films. Whether we get more apes films in the future is a question that may be answered tomorrow, two years from now, or maybe even decades later. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Caesar is one of the better-developed characters we’ve gotten since the turn of the millennia, which will no doubt help Andy Serkis’ campaign for his first Academy Award (honorary or otherwise) in recognition of his brilliant and inspiring motion capture performances.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
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Nick Oon (author) from London on July 16, 2017:
Thank Ryan. Hope you saw it and liked it as much as I did!
Ryan from Louisiana, USA on July 14, 2017:
The first two film were amazing. I love that this film seems to be just as good. I have not seen it yet but I am ready to see it. Thanks for sharing this review.