War for the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast Headliners: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, various apes and humans
Original Release Date: July 14th, 2017
The modern reboot series of the Planet of the Apes franchise has trended towards not just decent, but incredible. These new films have tapped into state of the art special effects , dramatic and effective writing, stellar cinematography, and a epic scope to levels that arguably surpass the 70s series by leaps and bounds. War for the Planet of the Apes marks a sort of end of this new take (although as with any of what is successful in Hollywood these days, there are plans and likely to be more) on the apes. It ties into the themes, plot elements, and excellence of the series to deliver a fitting conclusion and reach masterful new heights in many areas. The title is war, but if anything, it could be called “Finale of the Planet of the Apes” for its themes and wraparound.
A few years after the events of 2014's post-apocalyptic Dawn (and even further past 2011's apocalyptic Rise), the larger human force teased in the end of that film hunts down the ape community of Caeser(Andy Serkis). The human military still has not learned their lesson to both not put the blame on him, and also to think they can stop him and his simian people so easily. The movie shows its strengths from the get-go with a dark, brutal, intense action battle of human soldier (including traitor “donkey” ape allies) attacking the apes at their base. From here the stakes only amp up as a tale of revenge and finality is told.
The CGI special effects reach an incredible new height in this film. Serkis' Caeser , as ever, is a monumental achievement of both the visual spectacle of mocapped movement and the dramatic nuance as the voice and face of the role. All of the apes look more real than ever, but particularly Caeser seems just as real as any human in reality. Moreso than all others he seems like a real prop, a costume, mask or model with his fur and movements and all. This however are all effects of CGI which is amazingly impressive. In terms of a character, Serkis' voice (used now most of the time although there is delicately swift use of sign language as well) performance is stellar. He is gruff yet emotional. When making demands, when feeling sorrow, when being inspired, and even a moment of humor this ape is a legend. One of the greats, and his character arc (And the choices he has to make ) are highly great.
This combo visual / dramatic quality of ape characters is present in most others as well. On his mission, Caeser finds himself joined by a “squad” that consists of the gungho Rocket(Terry Notary), the loyal Luca(Michael Adamthwaite), and the wise Maurice (Karin Konoval...who seems even realer than any other). The friendship and tactical skill between these forms a strong and memorable bond leading to excitement and emotion. High effort seems to be placed on these ape with the budget, since when there is dozens of apes on screen the effects can be more noticeable as not real. But zoomed in, one would believe these apes are right alongside the real human actors. Some other minor highlights of apes include the sincerity of Caeser's “daughter-in-law” Lake(Sara Canning), albino Winter(Aleks Paunovic) and even the return of the second film's vile villain Koba(Toby Kebbell via visions). There's also the important new, non-ape but noble addition of mute young girl Nova(Amiah Miller) who the heroes take under their wing after finding her on the road. Her nuanced, mostly silent performance earns her a place amongst the best of apes. An ape that is just as praiseworthy as Caeser or Maurice is the newcomer of “crazed old hermit” Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). He is from a different culture than the main apes and has a (sign) language barrier. He also is uniquely cowardly, bizarre, and hilarious. His comic relief and charm function blend well into an otherwise grim movie and its interesting how unrecognizable but effective Zahn is in this highlight role.
The human villains (Nova aside there are not really any noble ones this time... the presence of Jason Clarke's character is only slightly missed however in the excellence of the other elements) get strong vile if generalized with one exception characterization. The legion of the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) are ruthless, abusive and are as if they are some ancient Roman Legion rather than just generic soldiers. They are a threat to far outdo other human villains across the franchise, well equipped and fearsome.
To oppose Caeser, there's the Colonel... and Woody Harrelson gives a really good performance. It is not often he has played the villain, and he has a knack for it. He is a zealot filled with rage..almost ridiculously so. His stance is manic and Harrelson drips evil and bringing this across. There's even a small bit of sympathy for him in the right moments, and of course humor in a evil way. He ends up being more of a far off character but his influence is felt. One will hate him, and cheer for his hopeful demise.
That brings a fair point... the title is “War” and while there is some incredible, visually stunning action as with the others in this trilogy it comes in ebbs and flows. Do not come into this expecting constant slaughter. It is , once again, a more visceral, slower epic journey. This journey pays off when it needs to though and is no less exciting or intense in its nuance.
The music in this movie is fantastic. Compose Michael Giacchino both uses repeating leitmotifs and surprises with diverse sounding pieces that add to the emotional feels, the excitement, and the unfolding intricate plans with occasional bouts of whimsy and magic. It is a lush, orchaestral soundtrack that highly adds to scenes.
What scenes they are... director Matt Reeves delivers strongly not only on the apes themselves but also on nearly every other aspect. The cinematography is great both intimately up close and from af far. There are breathtaking, beautiful uses of landscapes from surreal coastal beaches and solemn forests to desolate snowy mountains. The tracking when action pops up brings the viewer right into the scene while also being awe-inspiringly larger than life. His touch and style are distinct and it was a smart choice having him finish off the story to new heights.
This is a long, epic movie that can beat times drawn out but in the end pays off. It helps to have seen the others in the trilogy to understand the stakes and context for what's going on..alongside some references and surprising new twists. It can be heady, but it can also be pure fun...or pure emotional feels. Pure epic is a word to descibe this saga, and this piece of it. Caeser will not be forgotten, and what he did for the apes... and its franchise. 9.12 out of 10