After the apes suffer unimaginable losses, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts and begins his own mythic quest to avenge his kind.
The third entry in this modern ‘Planet of the Apes’ is a fitting capper to a surprisingly excellent series, and whilst I no doubt expect further sequels to come, this trilogy has been a terrific journey following the rise of the apes across a period of time from a world resembling our own, to the one we see in this entry. The passage of time between ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘War’ is marked clearly by the difference between the warring factions. In ‘Dawn’, the humans had a foothold and it was a relatively level playing field, with a common ground still believed to be possible between the more rational members of both tribes. In ‘War’, the only humans we see are military personnel, and it’s clear the battle for common ground has long been lost to the extremists (at least on the human side). It provides a heightened dynamic to proceedings and a solid backdrop for one of the best and most thoughtful action movies of the year.
We join up with Caesar and the apes as they inhabit the woods we left them in at the end of the previous film, fighting off sporadic attacks from a human militia, but mostly trying to build and establish a peaceful existence for themselves now the likes of the rogue ape Koba is out of the picture. The militia in question is led by Woody Harrelson’s ‘The Colonel’, a rogue operative who in Kurtzian style, seems to command an army isolated from the wider human population (or what remains of it), and a deadly attack by his men initiates the central conflict between him and Caesar that makes up much of ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ plot. Harrelson is almost a little too cartoonish as the main antagonist, but I did enjoy him, even if his portrayal feels less like it was inspired by Brando in ‘Apocalypse Now’ and more like it was trying to copy him.
Andy Serkis is the king of motion capture and his performances as Caesar across this trilogy have been nothing short of remarkable, and long overdue recognition would be welcome when awards season comes around. You continue to marvel at how realistic the effects are, most notably in the incredible human performers behind the apes, carrying off minor movements and facial expressions with an extraordinary degree of nuance. I particularly loved Steve Zahn’s ‘Bad Ape’, an escaped zoo animal who we meet living in isolation, and who provides most of the comedy, but does so with a hint of sadness behind his eyes, and the elder statesman Maurice (Karin Konoval) remains the heart of the film. Amidst the action I found the strongest aspects of the film were in the character moments, such as the touching connection between Caesar and his son and when Maurice bonds with a young human girl (Amiah Miller) discovered in an abandoned village. It’s at these points that the ‘Apes’ series really gets into the heart of the wider story it’s trying to tell, and when it hits some of the strongest heights thematically, and given the time we’ve spent with this series and these characters, that weight pays off in really effective ways.
‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ is another outstanding entry in this brilliant series, and it continues to be a showcase for the very best in visual effects, cinematography and motion capture performance, whilst also delivering an emotionally satisfying story that furthers the mythology of the series. This is blockbuster entertainment at its finest and it’s one of the best movies of the summer.
Directed By: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Judy Greer, Max Lloyd-Jones, Devyn Dalton, Amiah Miller and Gabriel Chavarria