Starring Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller
Directed by Matt Reeves
Since I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, I’m going to discuss certain events minimally. That being said, I do warn readers that this review will give away information that is best left seen during the experience.
Franchises rarely see greatness after the first entry. There are far more terrible sequels than there are memorable ones. But when greatness strikes, it can hit like a lightning bolt and shock viewers with its awesome power. Cutting to the quick of it, Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the third film in the Planet of the Apes trilogy that began in 2011, offers precisely that experience.
The story takes place two years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are in hiding in the woods, attempting to live a life of peace and solitude away from humans. However, the actions of Koba have not been forgotten; and soldiers, led by The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), are still searching for Caesar and his apes, not to kill them but to use them for their own nefarious plans.
While this may be the foundation, the true conflict comes in when Caesar, having shown mercy to a few of The Colonel’s soldiers, suffers the murder of his wife and son, Cornelius, at the hands of The Colonel himself. This comes mere hours after Cornelius returned from a long journey where he found a potential new home for the apes. A new beginning was in store for them, and then it was all ripped away. Caesar now has a singular mission: to kill The Colonel. That blind rage and hatred places his apes in harm’s way, and it falls upon him rescue them all from their captors.
Director Reeves finds a way to exude every ounce of tension and emotion from this film. The loss of Caesar’s family is heartbreaking, and his fury is fully understandable. The Colonel’s story about his own personal loss, which also acts as the explanation of the Simian Flu’s mutation into a new kind of disease, is equally painful, even though we, the audience, loathe this man for what he’s done to a character we’ve followed through two films. Nova, a girl who has been struck as a result of the mutated virus, acts as a bridge between the species, showing Caesar that humans can have empathy and love for apes. Steve Zahn’s character, Bad Ape, offers comedic respite that feels totally organic to a film that is quite bleak and tragic.
All of these characters are interwoven in such a way that the world makes sense and where it’s hard to pick a team. Obviously the film follows the apes, and therefore, we are meant to empathize with them over humans, but we see moments where the actions of Caesar and his apes have consequences that they will have to live with. They are not flawless, and Caesar’s quest for revenge brings pain upon those he loves by virtue of his inability to look beyond his own suffering. We as viewers can understand where he’s coming from, but we don’t have to agree with it and are free to criticize his choices.
–S P O I L E R A L E R T–
Everything comes to a climax that is explosive, both figuratively and literally. While it made sense in the overall storyline, there was an event of cataclysmic magnitude that felt wildly out of place and rather unnecessary. Furthermore, an injury Caesar sustained during this battle leads to his death after what feels like several days have passed. I found myself questioning why Caesar would hide it from the rest of the apes when immediate care would probably have saved him. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is quite poetic. Caesar was born into a world of humans and leaves it witnessing a home for apes.
–E N D S P O I L E R–
The overall story is all well and good, although it felt rather rushed. The mutated Simian Flu seemingly takes effect overnight, the capture of Caesar’s apes is unexplained (and feels unexplainable), and the soldiers, who have so effectively, and against all odds, managed to stay alive to this point, seem rather inept in the moment.
Visually, the film is nothing short of astounding. The FX used to create the apes is incredibly lifelike; and their eyes, which are usually the hardest part to get right, are rich with emotion and detail. The orangutan Maurice, in particular, looks particularly spectacular. Additionally, I think it will be a crime if Andy Serkis is not nominated for Best Actor as his performance not only brings Caeser to life but commands every scene. As for the music, Michael Giacchino’s score is thrilling, emotional, and engaging. It adds fuel to every scene where it is present and helps elevate this film to a higher level.
War for the Planet of the Apes is truly a marvel in so many ways. It’s a visual feast, it’s thematically challenging, and it’s one of the most thrilling experiences you’ll have in theaters this year. Is it flawless? No. But is it worth your time, money, and emotional investment. Absolutely. The new Planet of the Apes series has been given a fitting and powerful conclusion.