Released: July 11th 2017 (UK)
Length: 140 Minutes
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Devyn Dalton and Amiah Miller
2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes revitalised the science fiction series after years of absence and since then, the reboot series has continued to scale the ranks of the best summer blockbusters. The closing chapter of the trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, reaches a climax that few third entries manage to reach.
Opening with a brief text recap from the last two films, War is fully centred on the apes this time; Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe are still holed up in the woods near San Francisco, acting only in self-defence against the endless band of soldiers sent to attack their home. When one assault goes too far, Caesar and a small band of comrades set out to hunt down the man responsible while also sending the others on to look for a new home. As the journey takes them into the snow-capped mountains, Caesar and his close friends come face-to-face with the darkest recesses of humanity. This serves the springboard for the darkest and most bleak Apes story yet; humans have degenerated into little more than violent monsters, hell bent on preserving their own survival at any cost. By contrast, the apes have the closest bonds with each-other, their mercy often being rewarded by even more brutality. There’s a key theme here; destruction brought on by human nature, something caused by senseless infighting, an inability to listen and understand, not to mention a nasty dose of cruelty that comes with it. Without giving too much away, the film does deal with elements that relate to our own modern disagreements as well as a setting filled with Holocaust imagery. It goes a long way to convey just how close the apocalypse is to the humans and how low they have fallen in terms of conscience and remorse, the opposite of how they were portrayed in the first film six years ago. The plot itself keeps a firm focus on Caesar, meaning we never lose sight of his struggle.
While War has the most intense action of the series, it smartly places the characters at the forefront of its narrative. Caesar, having been hardened by the events of the last film is a living legend in the eyes of his species; the point-of-view shot of the apes kneeling before him is a seamless re-introduction. For this film, Andy Serkis works in some inner conflict, a few hints of temptation to throw away his caring morals. The film ultimately brings his tale to a close in a meaningful way. On the opposite end sits Woody Harrelson as the Colonel. He leads the human military forces in a ruthless, almost nihilistic fashion that makes him a formidable opponent; he also takes some inspiration from Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The interactions he has with Caesar are incredibly thought-provoking and the fact that he has no name further solidifies his absolute disconnect from humanity and emotion. The most intriguing thing of all in War for the Planet of the Apes is its ability to convey so much with hardly any dialogue; because it focuses more on animals as opposed to humans the facial expressions must deliver much of the emotion. The orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and the bond he shares with a young girl (Played by Amiah Miller) who also cannot speak, Rocket (Terry Notary) and his willingness to give everything for Caesar and the newcomer Bad Ape’s (Steve Zahn) solitary ways; they’re all incredibly impactful and emotive, drawing you into their struggles as well as any traditional performance can. The bonds that tie them together make you believe in their struggle, not to mention their group as a whole.
There are numerous special effects in War of the Planet of the Apes and they all work in tandem to create the most atmospheric and absorbing backdrop of the series. Motion capture work has always been one of the strongest qualities of the rebooted Apes series and War doesn’t falter one bit; in its quest to perfect the art of the mo-cap suit, each actor once again pours in all their efforts to make the ape characters come to life. The fur and facial expressions are once again at the top of the class but it’s the wounds on the apes that feel particularly visceral this time, reinforcing the film’s grim tone. The lighting is just as good, with many foreboding, low lit set-pieces that portray the human characters with a sense of darkness that pollutes their motives. With a cold, uninviting setting as its centrepiece, the action is mostly placed at the beginning and end of the film, making use of long shots to give a sense of scale alongside more military vehicles and explosions to give off their destructive nature. The music by Michael Giacchino is both haunting and ambitious with unique themes rolling into place for every character. At every turn War for the Planet of the Apes lives up to its title, laying its central themes of destruction and cruelty on thick to create a perfect complement to its story and characters.
Powerful themes, emotional character moments and impeccable special effects; these are items that third entries in trilogies sometimes fall short on. But War for the Planet of the Apes is a truly outstanding production, not to mention a phenomenal cap-off to what is easily the best reboot franchise of all time. It’s an absolute must-see for anyone looking for something thought-provoking this summer. (Just be sure to watch Rise and Dawn first!)
Rating: 5/5 Stars (Exceptional)