War for the Planet of the Apes
Rate: PG-13: Sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements and some disturbing images.
Review by: Benjamin Ferrarini
“War for the Planet of the Apes” is the last film in the reboot prequel trilogy produced by Twentieth Century Fox. “War” picks up a couple of years after the end of “Dawn” as it sees Caesar and his apes battling human military. Caesar has kept to the woods engaging in gorilla (pun intended) tactics with the sole purpose of protecting their home. The film opens on a band of soldiers stalking through the forest looking for Caesar. They believe Caesar is the brain behind all of the ape’s tactics and that taking him out will ensure their victory. After a brief battle, which the apes win, Caesar decides to spare the surviving soldiers and sends them back with a message; “leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone”. After two years Caesar is still making appeals for peace as he fights a war he never wanted. The spirit and actions of Koba, the ape that started the war in “Dawn”, very much haunts Caesar as he feels he could or should have done more to stop Koba. As you can probably guess Caesar’s offer of peace isn’t accepted and a team of special forces soldiers perpetrates a devastating attack under the cover of night. This leads Caesar to set out in an effort to track down and kill the Commander, pushing Caesar far closer to becoming Koba then he wants to admit.
Once again Weta has topped themselves delivering photo realistic CG characters that are able to deliver remarkably nuanced performances driven by the human actors that portray them. Thankfully the actors are also on the top of their game with Andy Serkis leading a dynamic cast. Serkis is at his best here with a Caesar that carries all the events of the past two films with him. It’s a remarkably subtle performance that carries the bulk of the film. There’s an old adage that a hero is only as good as the villain opposing them. Opposite Caesar is The Colonel played by Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games). The Colonel is the leader of the band of soldiers that has been fighting Caesar. He is the one who led the attack that sends Caesar on his quest for vengeance. The soldiers under him have raised The Colonel to a mythic status, they don’t follow just out of duty but reverence. Harrelson, plays a character walking a fine line between sympathetic and evil with enough charisma to pull off both. More so then the previous films, The Colonel has a well fleshed out motivation for doing what he does. By the end you understand the “why” of his actions even if you don’t agree with him. The supporting characters like Maurice continue to add depth and complexity to the group of apes who are undeniably the films protagonists. New comer Steve Zahn (playing “Bad Ape”) brings a level of heart and comic relief that for the most part works well.
Michael Giacchino’s score is mesmerizing as he builds on the work he did in “Dawn”. The music in “War” perfectly captures the emotion of the film. Likewise Michael Seresin returns to do the cinematography. I criticized “Dawn” for it’s desaturated color palette feeling it was a little too generic, however this isn’t true for “War”. “War” does a lot more to very the look and feel of it’s environments. From green forests, to snowy mountains, to muddy military camps there is a bevy of visual treats that help to liven up the film and set it apart from it’s predecessors. Credit also goes out to Seresin and the VFX team that filmed most of the movie on location rather then on green screens. It may be subtle but there is something about watching snow fall on human and CG characters alike that adds an additional layer of authenticity.
My gripes about this film are few. While I thought Harrelson’s villain is the strongest of the series, there is still an aspect that much of his character is laid out in spoken exposition. Specifically in a couple of the conversations between The Colonel and Caesar. Giving Harrelson a little more to do may have helped flesh out his character even more. The comic relief provided by Steven Zahn is something different from the other films in the series. I think it is needed here as “War” is arguably the most heavy film in the series. However, I think there are one or two points where Bad Ape’s antics are taken just a little too far. Lastly I think elements of the third act felt a little rushed. All and all though this is the strongest film in the series.
“War of the Planet of the Apes” isn’t exactly what I was expecting. It isn’t a war of guns and tanks but a battle of wills. A struggle between two characters who represent their respective races. There is some fighting but it isn’t the focus. “War for the Planet of the Apes” is a film that doesn’t mistake spectacle for story. It doesn’t substitute action for emotion. Like the other films before it “War” keeps itself incredibly grounded in relatable characters who are driven by understandable motives. Because of this the “Planet of the Apes” reboot prequels stand together as one of the best trilogies out there.
“War” does open with a very brief recap, meaning you don’t have to see the other films first, however I would highly recommend it as they each build on each other making “War” a far more rewarding experience if you’ve seen the other films first.
You can find my reviews for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” right here on the Glitch.