War for the Planet of the Apes Review
Starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Amiah Miller, Karin Konoval, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite, Terry Notary, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic, Alessandro Juliani, Gabriel Chavarria
Written by Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Directed by Matt Reeves
Director of Photography by Michael Seresin
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the beginning of a prequel trilogy setting up the 1968 Charlton Heston classic. As each new film was introduced into the series, the trilogy was growing more and more mature, along with its main character Caesar. Evoking Nazi imagery and injecting a Christ allegory, War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect end to a great trilogy.
Following The Outbreak and Dawn
Two years after the events of Dawn, the simian flu has spread further infecting more and more humans creating a panic amongst the remaining human survivors. Caesar and the rest of the evolved apes (monkeys, apes, gorillas, orangutans, et cetera) live in the woods cautious of humans impeding on their woodland home. After a deadly encounter with a man known simply as The Colonel, Caesar’s focus turns to killing the man responsible for the death of his family. It’s until his entire tribe is captured and forced to build a wall that Caesar and his followers have to rise to fight against those oppressing them.
War, the longest film in the prequel trilogy, feels like a stand-alone film. All films in the franchise feel like stand-alone features, loosely connecting to one another through characters and plot points. To enjoy War you don’t need to see the other two film but some things, such as Caesar’s struggle with Koba’s death, will mean something to those informed. Returning as cinematographer is Michael Seresin.
A lot of the film’s dark themes are juxtaposed with rich landscapes of apes riding on horseback through a desert, or lounging about in a rainforest. Nearly every shot is constructed beautifully, showing this desolate world in various ways in multiple locales. The internment camps are darker, using the paleness of the snow and highlighting the grimness of worn rusted metal. Some scenes, such as the scene with Luca placing a cherry blossom in Nova’s hair, is beautiful in its simplicity. Simply put, the film is breathtaking.
Groundbreaking Visual Effects Work
The visual effects work by WETA is magnificent and has come a long way from 2011’s Rise. Rewatching scenes from that film, the CG has aged to a considerable point. From being in awe of a simple two-second teaser of a CG Andy Serkis, seeing the individual hairs bouncing and moving with the wind on Caesar’s head is astonishing.
What helps sell the effect are small details such as the hands, dew drops on hair, and the interaction with non-CG characters; Harrelson physically touching Caesar’s head at one point didn’t show ghosting around his fingertips, a drawback seen in many films relying on heavy CG use.
A Steady Growth
Caesar’s growth from film to film is one of the single greatest accomplishments in terms of characterization. Serkis’ role from film to film shows a growth in that character from a mute ape with growing intelligence to the soldier responsible for leading a faction. Serkis – along with the entire Apes cast – brings a humanity to fully CG characters. What helps is WETA’s involvement with creating near-photorealistic eyes that push each performance.
Serkis gives a performance that will forever follow him, and for good measure. Caesar is a complex character performed with grace and maturity by Serkis himself. It’s a performance that should be recognized by a major award show but sadly will not. I’ve been wrong before and certainly hope I am here.
A Fitting End
War for the Planet of the Apes is compelling from the opening title cards to the end credits. Its plot manages to stay one step ahead of its audience, seldom allowing to fall to predictions. Once the film finds its footing – about forty minutes in – it ceases to let hold of you.
Most of the film is held in an internment camp where the forces of two characters, each with an appropriate Christ allegory, meet. Harrelson is a perfect balance of unstable and volatile and the only character in the trilogy – aside from Koba – to pose a real threat to Caesar.
Forced to build a wall, the apes huddled together in enclosed spaces evoked thoughts of Concentration Camps from World War II and those from North Korea today. The human soldiers filed in an orderly fashion further expounds on Nazi imagery. War, at times, is brutal to endure. Characters are killed in gruesome ways and with unrelenting force. The PG-13 rating might have been stretched just a tad.
Aside from a shot of weird product placement for Coca-Cola and a death scene that doesn’t have the emotional weight it was expected to carry, War for the Planet of the Apes is a near perfect blockbuster.