TL;DR – Apes Together Strong
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
Film trilogies are very precarious things to manage because you have to keep each film working in its own right, but also place it in the context of a greater series. This can lead to all sorts of issues, like power creep when you have to keep upping the last film into ridiculousness, or different creators can come in and you have to balance their views with what is already established, there are studio and contract pressures. All of this can lead to the very common third film fail where things just fall apart, like the X-Men films for example. So given how strong the Planet of the Apes films have been, especially given that they are reboots, I was concerned that they would not be able to stick the landing with the third film. But I was wrong, and I am so happy that I was.
So to set the scene, at the end of Rise of Planet of the Apes, most of the human population of the world had been killed off by the same virus that gave apes intelligence. In the aftermath, during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) created a community in the forests north of the ruins of San Francisco, only to be drawn into a war when Koba (Toby Kebbell) attacked a group of human survivors, causing them to radio for help from the last American Military base standing. At the start of War for the Planet of the Apes, the conflict between the Apes and the military team led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) had been going for a long time, and had not been going well as Caesar had sent his son Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) to scout past the mountains for a new home. Many of those Apes who fought with Koba now fight with the ΛΩ (Alpha & Omega) against Caesar but they are treated live slaves and are called Donkeys. Now the ΛΩ are getting close to finishing their task, the extermination of the Apes for good.
So before we jump into the story I wanted to take a few moments right here at the start to talk about the technical side of the film, because it is simply outstanding. First, we have to talk about the sound because from the mixing, to the effects, to the soundtrack it was stunning. The soundtrack for War of the Planet of the Apes, is very different from the style we have seen from Michael Giacchino in the past. While yes it does have some of his trademark contemplative piano pieces, it also had an almost retro feel. It is hard to explain but in many cases, I felt like I was watching a film for the 1960s, a beautiful homage to the original film. As well as the soundtrack, the soundscape of the film was Oscar worthy, and I am almost positive that Oscar nomination is in its future. There is a moment right at the start where there is almost no dialogue, so you only have the sounds of the forest to guide you. The droplets of rain that fall around you, and bounces off the guns with a metallic tang. The sounds of waves crashing against the coast, the sound of bullets whizzing by, it sucks you into this world through its excellent audio emersion.
This emersion continues on to the visuals that are both beautiful, but also each frame is used to build a world lost to the wild. Now I mention in my review of The Queen’s Justice (review) that they had amazing location scouts, but Apes leaves them all in the dust. There are some moments of pure beauty all throughout this movie that you can’t help but sit back and marvel at it all. Some of it is just the locations that they found to film in, the other is the way they subtly added the remnants of the fallen world all around them, oh and yes we did see that sneaky product placement you added in there. One thing I really liked is how the cinematographer Michael Seresin had this great way of playing light and dark off each other, which really helped forward the tension in many scenes.
Now we can’t talk about the visuals without discussing Weta Digital’s amazing work in creating the apes in Planet of the Apes. Back during Rise, I mention that Andy Serkis’ performance and the animators that brought it to life deserved Oscars for their work, and I think that comment is just as if not more valid today. The detail they can get out of the performances is staggering, as is the detail in the fur, and eyes, which are some of the more difficult things to animate correctly. You see them as real living creatures, which is not something you can say for a lot of CGI characters that exist.
Now we can’t talk about War for the Planet of the Apes without discussing the characters and the story. Now to do this we will be employing [SPOILERS] from this point onwards. One of the strengths of the Apes reboot films has been their characters because they are never one dimensional, and even the bad guys have clear and understandable motivations, well not Dodge, but you can’t get everything. Indeed, it is these complex characters that are at the heart as to why Planet of the Apes works when so many other reboots failed, indeed see the last time they tried to reboot Planets of the Apes. You can see that in all the characters, even The Colonel and once again [SPOILERS] incoming. The Colonel could have been your stock standard crazy cult leader, or military leader that has lost his mind, however, what we find is a man who has a history. He’s seen the world fall around him, nearly everything he once had lost to a virus he couldn’t see or stop. So he responded by putting his faith into those structures of the past that gave what was left of his life order, faith, America, the military. However, this blinds him to parts of the world around him, he cannot see how Caesar was offering him a way to end the conflict peacefully, and he could not see that just because his son had lost the ability to speak when the virus modified itself, didn’t mean he wasn’t still human.
Part of why this works so much is that every character has an arc, even those who don’t get a lot of screen time. Take Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) who was willing to let Nova (Amiah Miller) die because she wasn’t one of them. However, over time he came to care for her, even picking her a peach blossom, so when he sacrifices his life to save Caesar, that emotional moment is more intense than it would have been otherwise been when Nova gave him back the flower, and if you don’t think I had more than a few tears in my eyes at that moment, then you’re sadly mistaken. You have Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who could have been an obnoxious comic relief character, but his social awkwardness comes from the pain of being left alone, and loneliness of being the last of his kind. Or Preacher (Gabriel Chavarria), whose arc is to show that some people are destined to fail at the simple task of learning from their mistakes.
When you are the last film in a trilogy so much pressure is on you to stick the landing. Characters are important, the structure is important, motivations are important, but also how you end it is important. One of the big issues with trying to reboot Planet of the Apes, is the cultural inertia of that watershed “You maniac! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to Hell”. This moment is part of American and global cinema history, a touchstone, but also something that is so profound, that it is really hard to top, something even the original Planet of the Apes sequels struggled to replicate. The reboots, moved away from this kind of moment, instead focusing on more, well for a lack of a better word ‘human’ moments. In Rise, sure we wiped out most of the humans, but it was because of people and how they acted, same with Dawn. With War of the Planet of the Apes it is all about Caesar, facing his demons, going to a dark place and coming out the other side. Indeed, it is a story that you may have seen before, and the religious iconography throughout the film is not just there for set dressing, the Promised Land calls. It is an ending that is one of the strongest endings of a trilogy that I have seen, I would say it had a stronger ending than Return of the Jedi.
In the end, do I recommend War of the Planet of the Apes?, of course I do, the action is strong the story is strong, the acting is strong, the effects are strong. Sure yes if you want to be picky there are some story short cuts and moments that probably would not have happened in real life, but none of that dints this amazing film. Make sure you go see it in the cinema.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of War of the Planet of the Apes
Directed by – Matt Reeves
Written by – Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves
Based on – Characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, & The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, & The Planet of the Apes screenplay by Michael Wilson & Rod Serling
Music by – Michael Giacchino
Cinematography by – Michael Seresin
Edited by – William Hoy & Stan Salfas
Starring – Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Max Lloyd-Jones, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic, Gabriel Chavarria & Woody Harrelson
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13