While some war epics are all battle scars and no development, War For The Planet Of The Apes invests in characters over gunfire. Hairy characters who rarely speak full sentences (or any language at all). Director Matt Reeves is aiming for an Ape-Pocalypse Now (actual graffiti seen in the film) take, poisoned by the stench of savage human desperation. War is hell, and that doesn’t change when combatants are interspecies. “Ape killer” helmet tags bring us back to the days of Vietnam, with hints of Nazi regimes and Confederate slave practices not far behind. Humanity’s bleakest atrocities are crammed into Caesar’s final stand, but this movie isn’t about us (humans). If you’re like me, you’ll be rooting for the apes without second-guessing.
What? We had a
good meh pretty shitty run.
Reeves continues Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) story right after the events of Dawn, as the ape population still suffers from Koba’s (Toby Kebbell) mutiny. The reinforcements Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) phoned have arrived, and they hunt Caesar’s tribe with tactical precision. Casualties mount, but hope is not lost. Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones) -Caesar’s son – returns with news of a desert promise land, and the planning begins – but not fast enough.
Colonel McCullough (Woody Harrelson) rappels intoCaesar’s home that same night, meaning the ape’s secret hideaway is no longer a secret. This sparks an immediate move towards safety, except for Caesar – he has a score to settle. Joined by Maurice (Karin Konoval), Rocket (Terry Notary) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), Caesar embarks on a quest for revenge against Colonel McCullough. That’s until he finds McCullough’s camp, where every ape is now being held prisoner…
The depth of development from Rise to Dawn to War merits praise on all accounts. Not only is Andy Serkis covered in motion-capture gear (making for a performance challenge), but the franchise’s writers and directors have needed to convey human struggles through primate means. In War, we watch as Koba’s hateful influence boils inside Caesar while being tortured by McCullough’s tyrannical regime. The detail in Caesar’s expressions – burning rage when lunging towards a shocked McCullough – is defined down to the tiniest animated wrinkle or spec of flying saliva. VFX company Weta Digital capture Serkis’ mannerisms with arresting detail, while the veteran creature actor emotes under thick mats of fur. The flashbacks, the introspective monologs – all the darkness that dwells inside Caesar builds a stronger leader, magnificently captured from all angles. You know the phrase “Hollywood magic?” Caesar is the definition.
While we’re on the topic of Weta Digital, can we give War For The Planet Of The Apes the Best Visual Effects statue now? It’s instantly deserved. Caesar is just one ape in a large colony, all of whom are treated with equal attention. Their movements capture National Geographic realism and facial reconstruction allows for ranging expressions – 75% of this movie is ape-dominated in the best way. Weta’s unmatched digital artistry would suffice for an entire ape-only franchise story if need be, as the connection between audience and animal reflects mirror-like representation.
Don’t believe me? You’re going to fall in love with a young girl, Nova (Amiah Miller), who becomes an unlikely ally. Not simply because she and Maurice embrace friendship, but because of the teaching moments, effortless bonding and a sign-language scene where Nova is told she’s “brave.” Nova shares the possibility of coexistence, keeping a light shining in times when Caesar’s mind thinks of Koba’s words.
War For The Planet Of The Apes struggles during an expected third act, where the follies of men rear their ugly heads. McCullough has already shown his hand – a maddened militant who blames apes for his son’s death – so forgiveness is never expected. We know where the Apes saga is headed. Caesar extends many olive branches, but lunatics like McCullough only focus on eradication. All apes must die, no questions asked.
Motivations become aggressively sinister, while finality looms with the same kind of oppressive comeuppance that’s doomed so many civilizations before. That’s not to say a closing outpost siege faceplants unceremoniously, it’s just easy to read. Dawn has higher stakes – the volatile spark that would define coming tension between man and beast – where War is a necessary, yet unsurprised culmination. Reeves pushes McCullough’s madness a bit too hard, and leaves a mysterious mutation in the ape virus a bit *too* mysterious. A slight misstep, but that’s it.
Again, this doesn’t mean action falters. Act III is accented by firebombing strafes and crossbow arrows, but all while apes are on the retreat. Humanity versus itself, with Caesar trying to free his family from harm’s way. Highlights are more about orangutan children shimmying over a cage-to-cage wire like some carnival act (that I’d pay top-dollar to watch). Nothing is about an actual Apes vs. Humanity WWIII scenario. War For The Planet Of The Apes *rightfully* questions what war is actually good for – even if this means a bit of midsection sluggishness.
Even with a bananas length of two-plus hours, Matt Reeves closes War with the same intrigue that Rise opened on. Fox’s Apes movies offer some of the better mainstream storytelling of the last decade, steady as a rock in terms of production. What other series can turn an actor like Steve Zahn into a supporting character worthy of awards chatter (his ‘Bad Ape’ character is a unanimous favorite)? With animation as good as Weta’s monkey overhaul, any franchise could – but few compare. Not since Avatar, maybe? In any case, War For The Planet Of The Apes is a responsible threequel that’s hedged on the primal nuances of societal dystopias. The worlds of man and beast, blurred until there’s no telling who’s who. All that, and adorable baby apes?! That positives just keep piling up.
While War for the Planet of the Apes's third act is a bit hairy, the sequel helps cement the franchise as one of the more exciting mainstream properties worth watching.