There was much scepticism around Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A reboot of a classic Hollywood series? And coming so soon after the dreadful Tim Burton remake? The doubters were proved wrong by the final film, an excellent origin story for the intelligence of the apes with strong action and a brilliant motion capture performance from the legendary Andy Serkis as intelligent chimp Caesar. This was taken to the next level three years later with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which was a darker and even more thoughtful sequel that gave both the apes and humans well rounded characteristics and made you feel sympathy for both sides of the battle, as well as providing a wicked villain in Toby Kebbel’s Koba. Naturally this means that the pressure’s on War to match the very high standards of the previous films and be a suitably grand conclusion to the trilogy.
A film that has War in the title would imply that things are getting darker and that’s the case with this film. Koba’s attack of the humans at the end of Dawn escalated into full out war being declared between the humans and the apes. After heavy casualties for the apes, including particularly personal losses for Caesar, he sets off to confront the megalomaniac colonel (Woody Harrelson) of the humans, all the while wrestling with his darker instincts and desire for revenge.
Thankfully, whilst War of the Planet of The Apes gets even bigger than its predecessors in scale, it doesn’t lose ground in quality and serves as a strong conclusion to the three arc film. Part of this can be put down to the action; a war film would call for strong action and this film delivers, though it is mainly restricted to the beginning and the end of the film. There are a few smaller moments of action scattered around the rest of the film but it’s in these two parts – the human raid on the apes at the beginning and the big explosive finale where Caesar attempts to escape the human compound – where the film really comes alive. But a great deal of the success of the films comes from the interactions between the characters, specifically the apes. The humans do suffer a little in this film, with the majority of these characters being faceless soldiers with little motivation or purpose other than to go up against the apes, which leads to much of the shades of grey to disappear from War as it becomes clear who the film wants you to root for – compare this to Rise and Dawn where both sides were very sympathetic and humanity becomes somewhat two-dimensional. There’s only one major human figure in the film and that’s the Colonel, who thankfully makes up for the rest of his kind being dull by being an enjoyable figure in his cold-hearted tenacity and anger. Harrelson is having fun with his role as he goes quite over the top at times, but the character also has some depth to him as his fears of the apes and the Simian virus that they bought do have some justification to him, and near the end he manages to elicit some sympathy as his situation worsens.
But ultimately the film lives and breathes through its apes. Much of the film is spent with the apes and the apes alone and they’re all beautiful scenes – this is especially true with many scenes that contain very little dialogue, only featuring chimp noises, subtitles and the beautiful score by Michael Giacchino. The amazing CGI helps this out as all of the apes look incredibly realistic without being creepy – even the more humanistic Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) manages to avoid the uncanny valley trap. Obviously it’s Caesar who propels all of the film, being very well written and amazingly acted. The character goes to a lot of dark places in this film and one of the conflicts of his character is whether or not he’s veering too close to the personality of Koba with his desire to kill a human – to some extent Caesar often feels like the villain of his own movie. Serkis once again gives a powerhouse performance and gives both an apelike and humanistic quality to Caesar, showing how he’s the king of motion capture characters.
War for the Planet of the Apes is the glorious third film that rounds out the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy in an epic and emotional manner; many of the moments of this film will make you incredibly sad if you’re a fan of the previous two entries. Though the human characters are written rather weakly the apes themselves more than make up for that, especially Caesar who’s a greatly conflicted character throughout, with the acting and the visuals being top notch. Watching scenes with minimal dialogue in particular are chilling to watch. Add in epic action scenes and you have a film that’s dark yet exciting, sad yet awe-inspiring, a true sign that the Planet of the Apes series has earnt its new life.
War for the Planet of the Apes – directed by Matt Reeves, written by Reeves and Mark Bomback, produced by Peter Chernin, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Dylan Clark, starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Judy Greer, Ty Olsson and Amiah Miller. A Chernin Entertainment production, a 20th Century Fox film