In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and was a surprise critical and financial success. It was followed in 2014 with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which was received with even more critical and financial success. The series took a different approach from the previous Planet of the Apes films and instead focused more on the apes side and see how they started to become intelligent to the beginning of their takeover of the planet. This has all been accomplished due to the ground breaking motion capture technology where humans play the apes and are able to bring human characteristics to the apes. So how does the final movie in the trilogy (sort of) hold up?
The movie begins two years after the previous movie where war has taken its toll on both the apes and humans caught in the conflict. Caesar, the ape who started the whole revolution and the leader of the apes, is weary. It’s clear that he is only involved in the war because he has to. Never forgetting that Koba, his best friend that he killed, is the one who started the war in the first place and wondering if he might go down the same path. After an act of mercy leads to dire consequences, the apes must find a new home while Caesar goes on a personal revenge quest against The Colonel.
First and foremost, the title is a bit misleading. This movie basically covers the tail end of the war with the majority of it happening in between movies. Instead, it is basically The Great Escape with apes. It is also not a very action oriented movie. Besides the opening and the ending, the action is very scarce. The movie is much more an introspective tale about Caesar and his struggles with what his life has brought him. Knowing that he is in a war that he never wanted to be in, a father to his sons, a husband and leader to an ape community, it is all taking a toll. It’s noticeable because he has gray hairs on his fur and it’s implied that it came from stress.
Andy Serkis once again delivers a great performance as Caesar. Caesar has come full circle as he is able to speak in full sentences and is much more human than any other ape. It is a nuanced performance as this is Caesar at his angriest and yet Caesar at his most compassionate. There should definitely be talks about some sort of Academy Award talk about Andy Serkis and what he is able to do. He has delivered one of the best performances in years. Woody Harrelson is The Colonel who is more nuanced than what you would expect from his type of character. Not really having the biggest role despite being the main villain, Harrelson is able to make the most out of his screen time. You understand where he’s coming from but at the same time, you see how far his character has fallen. Steve Zahn plays another ape named Bad Ape, an escaped zoo ape. Other than Caesar, he is the one ape who is able to really communicate with speech. He brings the comedy relief that is needed in this movie but it is never distracting and much more natural. Amiah Miller plays Nova, a mute girl, who Caesar and his group take in. Without getting into too many spoilers, Nova does hint at something that was at the forefront at the 1960’s Planet of the Apes franchise. So if the series continues, and why wouldn’t it, it is easy to see where the films will go.
Matt Reeves returns to the directing chair after directing the previous film, Dawn. Continuing on the same path with that film, Reeves has helped conclude probably one of the best trilogies in film. It can be considered to make an all out war movie with apes and humans. Instead, Reeves chooses to focus on the personalities at the end of the war. Despite most of the film taking place in the woods and other naturalistic areas, the film is beautiful to look at. There is a shot of Caesar and his fellow apes riding horseback on a beach to the sunset. One of the most beautiful shots in the movies. The apes look fantastic as well. Since Caesar has been the one consistent ape since Rise, he obviously looks the best. There are times when you forget that he is a computer generated character.
War for the Planet of the Apes is a highlight in a pretty dreadful summer 2017. It is not a shove your face in popcorn and turn your brain off type of movie. It is a thoughtful and introspective about war that just happens to involve talking apes and humans. All credit goes to everyone involved in creating this marvelous film. Who would have thought that Rise of the Planet of the Apes would lead to this? Certainly not me.