WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES:
THESE “APES” GO OUT ON A SERIOUS HIGH NOTE!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: **** out of 4
20TH CENTURY FOX
Andy Serkis is back as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes
Motion capture wizard, Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005), Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director, Matt Reeves (Felicity, Cloverfield, Let Me In) return in the third installment of the rebooted Planet of the Apes film series, War for the Planet of the Apes. This new series of Ape films have been a thrilling experience from beginning to end, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes breathed new life into a dead franchise after the dreaded Tim Burton remake from 2001, and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes expanded on the first film’s story and delivered a grittier and darker sequel that managed to surpass its predecessor.
Now I can say with all seriousness that War for the Planet of the Apes is the Return of the King and Bourne Ultimatum of Ape movies. That’s right, it’s the best in the series and quite possibly the best Planet of the Apes movie since the original 1968 Charlton Heston classic.
While the film has its moments of dazzling visuals and thrilling action, it is not the most action-packed installment or even a fun movie. War for the Planet of the Apes is pretty much the equivalent of an Ape-casted Academy Award® nominated drama type of movie that really cranks up the grim tone from the last movie, heavily character focused, and at times it can get pretty intense.
The film follows genetically enhanced ape Caesar (Serkis) and his clan at war with a human military faction called the Alpha-Omega led by a ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson-Zombieland, The Hunger Games franchise, Now You See Me). Caesar offers the human peace if they leave his apes alone, but it turns out the former ape followers of the deceased, Koba have joined the Alpha-Omega after being disillusioned by Caesar’s leadership.
After the apes suffered many losses at the hands of the humans, Caesar battles with his darker instinct and begins his next quest to avenge his kind. Caesar eventually comes face to face with the Colonel and the two of them are pitted against each other in a battle to determine the fate of their species and the future of the entire planet.
The film also stars Steve Zahn (Happy, Texas, Stuart Little 1 and 2, Captain Fantastic) as Bad Ape, Karin Konoval (Supernatural, 2012, Tower Prep) as Maurice, Terry Notary (The Cabin in the Woods, The Hobbit trilogy, Kong: Skull Island) as Rocket, Ty Olsson (X2: X-Men United, 2012, Godzilla (2014)) as Red, Judy Greer (Archer, Jurassic World, Ant-Man) as Cornelia, Devyn Dalton (A Fairly Odd Christmas, Legion) as Cornelius, Sara Canning (Slap Shot 3: The Junior League, The Vampire Diaries, Remedy) as Lake, Michael Adamthwaite (X-Men: Evolution, Death Note, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) as Luca, Aleks Paunovic (Arctic Air, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, iZombie) as Winter, Alessandro Juliani (X-Men: Evolution, Battlestar Galactica, Death Note) as Spear, and newcomer, Amiah Miller as Nova.
Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is a thrilling yet poignant final installment of a reboot trilogy that was probably a lot better than what it had the right to be. Seriously, I’m still shocked they were able to reboot something as iconic and nostalgic as Planet of the Apes and somehow make it work.
Thanks to some groundbreaking motion capture effects, clever writing, strong characters, and a film crew that understood the source material just enough to make something different out of it without rehashing the same old stuff because people liked it before, these movies completely surpassed my expectations each and every time and with a few callbacks to the original film they made me remember how much I enjoyed the 1968 classic. The effects in the last two films were very impressive but the motion capture in this one is Oscar worthy, not just Serkis’ performance but the animation on Caesar and the apes are so good I almost forgot I was looking at computer animated apes, now that’s how you do CGI correctly.
What I really appreciate about this movie is that despite having impressive visual effects and action scenes, they don’t overshadow the story and characters. The story is definitely darker than its predecessors and at times reflect real-life events such as World War II Nazi concentration camps and slavery and is more character focused than action-packed and honestly, I think that’s for the best.
Don’t get me wrong the action sequences are spectacular but what really makes this movie shine are its characters and themes. Despite the conflict with humans, Caesar isn’t made out to be the bad guy but he doesn’t want anything to happen to the apes even if it involves battling humans to keep his clan safe.
Maurice is a much more developed character in this film and even has a side-plot involving him adopting a young orphan human girl and starting an inseparable bond with her. He might actually be my favorite character in the new movies besides Caesar and Maurice doesn’t even talk much in these films.
War for the Planet of the Apes definitely feels more realistic than any of the other Planet of the Apes movies and it manages to tackle themes of prejudice and war without making both sides human. It’s a great sci-fi movie but it’s an even better war drama and a satisfying conclusion to the 2011 Planet of the Apes franchise, if you’re a fan of the new series or the Planet of the Apes saga as a whole this is a “War” not to be missed.